Last week, Dayton Children's Hospital in Ohio did what a number of pediatric hospitals across the country have done recently — it announced that it would stop selling sugar-sweetened soda and sports drinks at all of its locations. The policy, which takes effect May 1, applies to the hospital's cafeteria, gift shop, vending machines, patient room service and on-site catering.

It's another heartening sign that hospitals are taking the lead in the battle against Americans' awful eating habits and all the ailments they lead to. It's also a sign that hospitals recognize that their role in our changing health care system is not just to care for the sick, but also to promote wellness in the communities they serve.

Nothing is more fundamental to both purposes than good nutrition. In the March issue of Hospitals & Health Networks, we spotlight several health care systems that are paying much more attention to what people eat both inside and outside their walls.

Writer Rebecca Vesely points out that a third of people admitted to U.S. hospitals are malnourished, and many are at risk of malnutrition given their chronic conditions. Malnourished patients are at greater risk for pressure ulcers, surgical-site infections and falls, among other things. The Alliance to Advance Patient Nutrition, formed last year, has developed a nutritional care model with six major principles, which you can read in the Executive Corner that accompanies Rebecca's article.

Another group prodding providers to get with the program is the Hospital Healthy Food Initiative, and our article describes how systems like MaineHealth are meeting or exceeding the initiative's goals. For example, one goal is for an organization to spend at least 10 percent of its total food dollars on fruits and vegetables. As of September 2013, MaineHealth spent 17 percent of food dollars on those items.

MaineHealth also abides by the initiative's requirement that only healthy foods are displayed within five feet of cash registers and that 40 percent of all entrees, side dishes and general patient service menus meet nutritional and food guidelines set by the Partnership for a Healthier America.

Hospitals are not ignoring patients' nutritional needs when they send them home. Some are making sure healthy foods are available in their communities, going so far as to sponsor farmers markets, and others are even sending patients home with simple recipes for making healthful and good-tasting meals in their own kitchens.

Preston Maring, M.D., associate physician-in-chief at Kaiser Permanente Oakland (Calif.) Medical Center, says meal planning should be part of discharge planning. "We should ask every patient, 'Are you going to be able to get healthy food at home?' … Some people don't know what is healthy. So let's talk about what is your bridge to a healthy diet."

By the way, March is National Nutrition Month, sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Learn what it entails by clicking here.

To find out more about how Dayton Children's Hospital is improving its nutrition and food offerings, click here.