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Allina is working to nix sugary drinks, fried foods at hospitals

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Allina Health is joining other health systems in the state and around the U.S. to remove unhealthy food options from its hospitals and facilities.

In a memo to employees Friday, Dr. Penny Wheeler, Allina Health's president and CEO, announced the company will begin working toward eliminating "sugar-sweetened beverages in our facilities and deep fat-fryers in our cafeterias."

The change will better align Allina with its mission and promise to help improve the health of its patients, Wheeler wrote in the memo.

A timeline for when Allina Health – which operates 13 hospitals in Minnesota and western Wisconsin – will implement this change is not clear.

Allina has formed a task force to assess how to make these changes "thoughtfully and respectfully," Wheeler wrote, noting they face a "myriad of challenges, from an individual's right to make their own health care choices to the complex, long-term contract with McDonald's at Abbott Northwestern."

The task force will develop an implementation plan, and at that point details about the transition will be shared, Wheeler notes.

The McDonald's is expected to stay, however. Allina Health spokesman David Kanihan told the Star Tribune the fast-food restaurant will still serve fried foods and sugary drinks at Abbott Northwestern.

In the memo, Wheeler says she knows the decision to limit unhealthy options may not be popular with everyone, but "it's the right thing to do."

Employees and people visiting the hospitals will still be able to bring in the food and drink of their choosing, the Star Tribune notes.

Other hospitals doing the same

Allina's efforts are following the trend of other hospitals around the country in eliminating unhealthy food options, including many in Minnesota, as health advocates continue to push for easier access to healthy foods in hospitals, schools and other workplaces.

In June, Bloomington-based HealthPartners announced plans to reduce sugary beverage offerings at its hospitals by next year as part of the nationwide Healthy Beverages in Healthcare initiative.

Last fall, Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services joined several Minnesota hospitals in its commitment to promote healthier food options, among other things, by signing on to the Healthier Hospitals Initiative.

William Mitchell College of Law's Public Health Law Center has more on the hospitals and health systems around the state and country that have pledged to improve food and beverage options within healthcare.

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