Patients, providers and visitors at all AtlantiCare locations won’t be able to buy regular sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages on the premises as experts opt for healthier products.

Following the lead of other major cities and communities that have imposed taxes on sugary drinks in efforts to decrease consumption, AtlantiCare will eliminate the sale and serving of bottled or prepackaged and fountain-prepared sugar-sweetened beverages starting Sept. 7.

“As a result of the documented health consequences of added sugar, we are taking what we believe is a sip in the right direction toward enhancing the health and well-being of our patients, visitors, staff and providers,” said Audrey Heist, director of health engagement at AtlantiCare.

Health officials agree that the consumption of drinks high in added sugars result in poorer health. Sugary drinks specifically are a major contributor to the obesity epidemic, according to experts at Harvard University’s School of Public Health.

Harvard officials said a 2014 study showed that consumers drinking sweetened beverages — whether low-calorie or not — tended to have an overall lower dietary quality.

South Jersey has some of the highest rates of adult obesity in the state. About 28 percent of adults in Atlantic County were obese in 2013, according to the Robert Wood Johnson County Health Rankings. One in three adults in Cumberland County was obese, reports show.

“Consumption of added sugar, found in sugar-sweetened beverages, is linked to weight gain and great risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay,” Heist said. “It is our responsibility as a health care system to promote healthy behaviors and to make healthy choices easier.”

Staff, patients and visitors will still be allowed to bring in whatever beverages they’d like. Regular diet ginger ale will still be available on the floor pantries and diet soda will be available in the cafeterias and vending machines.

Nationally, public health officials have promoted a decrease in the consumption of sugary drinks and efforts to dissuade people in buying them, much to the chagrin of soda and soft drink manufacturers.

Philadelphia became the first major U.S. city to enforce a tax on sugary drinks, which went into effect Jan. 1. The city approved a 1.5 cents-per-ounce surcharge on soda and other sweetened beverages in June 2016.

The first kind of sugary drink tax was implemented in Berkeley, California, in January 2015 and San Francisco recently approved a one-cent-per-ounce soda tax, which will go into effect January 2018. Seattle approved its own sugary drink tax in June.

AtlantiCare, a member of Pennsylvania-based Geisinger Health System, will have tent cards in food cafeterias and messages on patient trays with notices of change as the initiative rolls out.

Jennifer Tornetta, AtlantiCare spokeswoman, said for each staff member who makes a sugar-free pledge, the AtlantiCare Foundation will donate two pounds of food to the AtlantiCare Pantry at the William L. Gormley AtlantiCare HealthPlex in Atlantic City.

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Contact:

609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Previously interned and reported for Boston.com, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe

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