Seattle's Swedish Hospital first in U.S. to take juice off the menu

SEATTLE - A popular drink is off the menu at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. Pediatric patients are no longer served juice. And doctors want the sugar-filled beverage banned at home, too.

Nine-year-old Gabe spent the night at Swedish Medical Center so doctors could check his seizure medication. That means waking up to breakfast in bed of a breakfast burrito, fruit and milk. Gabe would prefer juice to drink, but it's not an option here.

Gabe's dad, Tim Kolze, said they serve juice at home. "It usually seems like it would be a pretty healthy choice. 100% juice, so I wouldn't see why not," he said.

Dr. Uma Pisharody can explain. She specializes in Pediatric Gastroenterology, specifically seeing patients with liver disease. "The most common liver disease in childhood is something called Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). So it's the exact same fatty liver condition you see in alcoholics, but we call it 'non' because it's in kids," Dr. Pisharody said. "We know it's from excessive sugar intake. And one of the molecules in sugar is fructose. Fructose directly leads to this non-alcoholic fatty liver disease."

NAFLD is the most common liver disease in the country, striking one in 10 children, and the number of younger kids affected is growing. While it might seem like fat in the diet is the problem, Dr. Pisharody said sugar is the culprit. She tells her patients to cut excess sugar from their diets, and juice can be loaded with it.

"So all the patients I take care of, I tell them over and over, cut back on your juice intake. No soda, no added sugars. That's their mantra. They know not to take juice or sugars," she said.

One of her patients came to the hospital for a procedure, and when the child woke up, the nurse handed over a glass of juice. "That mom picked up the phone and called me and said 'hey you've been telling me not to give my kid any juice. How come he's getting juice in the hospital?' "

Dr. Pisharody got that changed. She presented data to hospital leaders who acted quickly. Juice is no longer offered routinely, and soon it won't be available except by request, making Swedish the first hospital in the country to remove juice from the menu.

"I think we're setting a great example for everyone to follow," Dr. Pisharody said. She doesn't just mean hospitals. She hopes parents will ban juice at home, too. She said children shouldn't have more than five to eight teaspoons of added sugar a day, or 20 to 32 grams. It's something parents should keep in mind when reading labels.

"Understanding what the numbers are helps parents understand," Dr. Pisharody said. "You can exceed that really quickly. It doesn't mean eating sweets all day."

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