Sugary Drink Ban Tied to Health Improvements at UCSF Medical Center

A workplace ban on the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages led to a 48.5 percent average reduction in their consumption and significantly less belly fat among 202 participants in a study by researchers at the UC San Francisco. 

Elissa Epel, PhD, lead author of the 10-month study that looked at positive health effects associated with reducing sugary beverages intake. 

By the end of the 10-month study, the participants who had reduced their intake of sugary beverages, like sodas, sports drinks and sweetened teas, also tended to show an improvement in insulin resistance and lowered total cholesterol.  

“This shows us that simply ending sales of sugary drinks in the workplace can have a meaningful effect on improving health in less than one year,” said lead author Elissa Epel, PhD, professor of psychiatry and director of the UCSF Aging, Metabolism, and Emotions Center. “There is a well-known pathway from soda to disease. High sugar intake leads to abdominal fat and insulin resistance, which are known risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even dementia. Recent studies have also linked sugar intake to early mortality.”

The study was published in the journal of JAMA Internal Medicine, had begun in the period before UCSF ended the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages across all of its campus sites and medical facilities in 2015. The participants, who were all UCSF employees, were assessed again 10 months after the sales ban had begun.

“This was not a ban on the consumption of sugared beverages,” emphasized senior author Laura Schmidt, PhD, MSW, MPH, UCSF professor in the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies. “People could still bring them from home or buy them off campus. This study demonstrates the value in rigging workplace environments to support people’s health rather than the opposite. UCSF simply took sugary drinks out of workplace vending machines, break rooms and cafeterias, and wound up improving employees’ health.”

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Co-Authors: Alison Hartman, Laurie Jacobs, PhD, Michael A. Cohn, PhD, Leeane Jensen, MPH, Laura Ishkanian, MPH, Janet Wojcicki, PhD, MPH, Ashley E. Mason, PhD, Robert H. Lustig, MD, MSL, all of UCSF; Cindy Leung, ScD, MPH, of University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and Kimber L. Stanhope, PhD, MS, RD, of University of California, Davis. 

Funding: University of California Office of the President, UCSF Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor/Provost, School of Medicine Dean’s office and UCSF Health, the Brin-Wojcicki Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. 

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