Juice boxes and children seem to go together. Juice is often the main drink in school cafeterias and at kids’ parties and sports events. But at Swedish Medical Center's First Hill campus, fruit juice is now off the pediatric menu.
Dr. Uma Pisharody pushed for the change after a young patient went in for a liver biopsy several months ago. When the patient woke up from anesthesia, the nurse gave him a glass of juice. It was standard procedure.
“The mom called me and said, you know that’s interesting because you’ve been telling me not to give my kid any juice for so long, and I found it interesting that the nurse in the hospital was giving him juice,” Pisharody recalled. “So that touched a nerve with me.”
Pisharody is a pediatric specialist at Swedish Medical Center. She treats kids with liver diseases like metabolic syndrome, a condition caused by consuming too much sugar. It’s very much like fatty liver, usually associated with adults who abuse alcohol. But in kids, the culprit is fructose.
Pisharody advises parents to cut back on sugar in their kids’ diets — from sweets, sodas and fruit juice. Yes, even natural, unsweetened fruit juice.
She says not all sugars are created equal. Fruit juice contains fructose: Only the liver can metabolize fructose, and when the body is inundated with sugar, your liver is stuck with it all. The liver “doesn’t know what to do with it,” Pisharody said. “So it just gets stored and leads to this metabolic syndrome.” She says it’s better to have kids eat their fruit than drink it.
The experience of the biopsy patient’s family led Pisharody to lobby hospital administrators and colleagues to remove fruit juice from its pediatric menu and find a fructose-free alternative. She says she was surprised there was virtually no pushback. The proposal went through a committee review and approval.
Swedish First Hill is the first to remove juice as part of its pediatric care. Pisharody expects other Swedish Medical Center campuses will soon follow. She believes Swedish is the first system in the state to do that.
Seattle Children’s does not offer sugar-sweetened drinks but still offers unsweetened fruit juices to patients.
According to the American Liver Foundation, almost 10 percent of all children in the U.S. are affected with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.