CALORIE loaded, sugar laden drinks are staples in all vending machines, but do they have a place in our hospitals?

Ballarat Community Health dietitian Kerri Gordon says soft drinks are major contributors to poor health and poor nutrition. Picture: Dylan Burns

A small health service is leading the push to can the drinks –by providing water only to patientsthrough both its vending machines and cafeteria.

As one of the highest soft drink consumers in the state, will Ballarat be the first major city to lead the way when it comes to a healthy future?

A 2011/12 health population surveyshowed Ballarat’s sugary soft drink consumption to befive per cent higher than Melbourne.

Nineteen per cent of the city’s population drinks soft drink on a regular basis.

Heart Foundation statistics also revealed Ballarat to be one of Australia’s fattest places, with residents also having a high rate of type 2 diabetes.

These same factors pushed East Grampians Health service to ban all drinks except water, tea and coffee three months ago. The movement is gaining momentum. Murrumbidgee Local Health District, in Southern New South Wales pulled all sugary drinks from its vending machines at more than 30 health locations in the district. It attributed a high rate of obesity to the unprecedented decision.

East Grampians Health Service chief Nick Bush said it was the responsibility of the health service to lead the way when it came to healthy living.

“We have a focus on reducing obesity and we decided we needed to take leadership,” Mr Bush said.“It’s a very important step and we hope through positive leadership other health services will follow us.”

Ballarat Health Services chief allied health officer Wendy Hubbard said it was “crazy” that soft drink consumptionhad got to this stage.

“We have tried to do things, like put water at eye level. But it’s not enough,” Ms Hubbard said.

“We have certainly recognised these (soft drinks) as an important issue and major contributor to a range of health issues.

“BHS’ Population Health and Primary Care Committeeis currently developing a strategy to address the issue in healthcare and other organisations across our community.”

St John of God Ballarat hospital director of nursing Maria Noonan said there were no plans to remove any beverages from distribution but stressed the hospital had a range of healthy options.

Ballarat Community Health dietitian Kerri Gordon said hospitals were at the“coal face of health” and any positive changes they could make in terms of health promotion would be hugely beneficial.

“There is evidence that obesity contributes to chronic disease and poor nutrition,” Ms Gordon said.

“We need to make peoples’ access to health services positive.”

Ballarat is currently engaged in the H30 Challenge to help fight the rising obesity problem.Ballarat’s obesity is 2.8 per cent higher than inMelbourne.Vic Health chief executive Jerrel Rechter last year toldThe Courierthat sugary drinks were costing Ballarat residents both financially and in terms of their long term health.

“Ballarat is pretty high up there on the scale,” Ms Rechter said.“Sugary drinks are the highest sugar intake in our diet. It’s just become what people drink.”

Ballarat mayor Des Hudson did not support the push to ban soft drinks because he feared it would take away personal choice.He saidthe decision was ultimately up to hospitals and health organisations. He stressed council had engaged in the H30 initiative to promote healthy choices.

Anotherreport labelled Ballarat as one of the most unhealthy cities in the world.

The ABS figures this year showed Ballarat had the second largest increase in any major urban areas of obesity among adults. There was an 8.2 per cent increase leading to a total of a 75.3 per cent obesity rate.

Australian Beverages Council CEO, Geoff Parker labelled a NSW Labor push to ban all soft drinks at hospitals as misguided.

“Australians need to continue to focus on the sensible, practical management of nutrition, not extreme regulatory measures ordered by the latest wave of anti-sugar discourse,” Mr Parker said.

“As an industry, we are strong advocates for better education, consumption in moderation and a common sense approach to all aspects of an individual’s diet.”

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