UCSF Launches Healthy Beverage Initiative

Health Sciences Campus Will Focus Sales on Zero-Calorie and Nutritious Drinks

By Kristen Bole

UC San Francisco is launching a healthy beverage initiative in an effort to align campus food and drink sales with the growing science about the negative impact of excess sugar consumption on health.

Starting July 1, UCSF will start phasing in a program to sell only zero-calorie beverages or non-sweetened drinks with nutritional value, such as milk and 100 percent juice, and will phase out the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages in its onsite cafeterias and food vendors, vending machines, campus catering and retail locations.

The program will begin at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus site, where UCSF Medical Center piloted the project when it opened its three new specialty hospitals in February. It will roll out across further campus sites throughout the summer, culminating at the Parnassus campus site in October.

UCSF and its affiliated hospitals are among more than 30 health systems nationwide that have begun to eliminate the sale of sugary beverages on campus in response to the growing evidence of their roles in metabolic and chronic disease, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease and dental caries.

“The science behind the impact of excessive sugar on chronic disease, particularly in the form of sweetened beverages, is already strong and growing,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. “As a health sciences university and leading medical center, we see it as our responsibility to do our part to help reduce this impact on our own community.”

Health leaders worldwide have begun to identify recommended limits of sugar consumption based on research implicating sugar in a growing number of diseases and conditions. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 g.) of added sugar per day and men no more than 9 teaspoons (38 g), due to its impact on cardiovascular disease. The World Health Organization recommends a similar level of no more than 10 percent of daily calories from added sugar, with greater benefit from reducing it to 5 percent of calories, due to dental caries. The U.S. departments of Agriculture and of Health and Human Services also are considering a 10 percent recommendation in the upcoming dietary guidelines.

Following the Science

SugarScience is an educational initiative and a comprehensive review of more than 8,000 scientific papers studying added sugar and its impact on health. Visit the website »

Americans currently consume an average of 19.5 teaspoons of added sugar per day, of which 36 percent is in the form of sodas, sports drinks and energy drinks, according to research assessed by the UCSF-led SugarScience project. Over the past year, the SugarScience team reviewed more than 8,000 scientific papers on sugar’s impact on health. Studies show that one soda exceeds the AHA daily limit for added sugar and that drinking just one soda per day can increase the risk of dying from heart disease by nearly one-third and raise the risk of diabetes by 26 percent. New research from UC Davis also has shown a dose-related connection between sugar and metabolic disease, with higher consumption linked to worse health impacts.

“The average American consumes nearly three times the recommended amount of added sugar every day,” said Laura Schmidt, PhD, a UCSF professor in the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy and the lead investigator on SugarScience. “The most common single source is sugar-sweetened beverages.”

Sugar overconsumption is implicated in most forms of metabolic and chronic disease, with growing evidence of links to some forms of cancer, premature aging and cognitive decline. These diseases are significant topics of UCSF research and clinical care.

Research in behavioral economics and public health has shown that people tend to make food and drink choices based on convenience and accessibility. By making it easy to purchase healthy food and drinks, UCSF can support patients and employees who are trying to improve their health.

As of November, members of the UCSF community and visitors will be able to bring sodas or other sugary drinks with them to campus, but will only be able to purchase healthy beverages.

The average American consumes 45 gallons of sugary drinks per year. While sugary soda consumption has begun to decline in recent years, annual U.S. consumption of sugary drinks rose by 38.5 gallons per person between 1950 and 2000. Sugar-sweetened beverages include sodas, fruit drinks with added sugar, energy drinks, sweetened teas, and sports drinks. 

UCSF is the nation’s leading university exclusively focused on health. Founded in 1864 as a medical college, UCSF is dedicated to transforming health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy; a graduate division with world-renowned programs in the biological sciences, a preeminent biomedical research enterprise and two top-tier hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco.