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The future of hospital food

This first appeared in the January 2015 issue of DOTmed HealthCare Business News

Janet Howard is the director of facility engagement at Practice Greenhealth, a non-profit with the mission to improve the health of health care, both by creating a healthier environment for patients and professionals and by creating an overall healthier planet through educational efforts and best practices. HCBN spoke with Howard to get some more information on what the organization’s educating hospitals about in regard to food. 

HCBN: How much of a shift has there been with hospitals looking to serve healthier food? 
JH: 
I can tell you that in addition to the healthier hospital initiative, we have a healthy food pledge. It shows a commitment to sustainability, and healthier food. Among our members in 2010, 47 percent signed it. By 2013, 69 percent had signed the pledge. While hospitals are approaching sustainability initiatives, it’s only more recently that it’s being attached to food. 

In regard to the food impact for the healthier hospitals initiative, there are three points: 

1. Balanced menus — reducing meat procurement by 20 percent and increasing the quality 

2. Local sustainable and/or organic — that’s been an exciting shift in helping hospitals in these complex procurement contracts as a way to not only reduce food miles, but also support their local communities, putting those dollars right back into the communities they serve. 

3. Addressing sugar-sweetened beverages – moving away from sugary sweetened drinks or eliminating them. 

Some hospitals we work with are challenged – because they say, we did reduce our meat offerings, but on reduced meat days, our sales aren’t good. When you look at the difference there, it’s often that some health systems have a chef there to create some interesting options. If you’re reducing meat procurement, it really must be balanced with interesting and delicious options. 

HCBN: What ways are those chefs helping to improve offerings? 
JH: 
Some are doing scratch cooking – preparing the food onsite to order. They’re offering smaller serving sizes for meat, more vegetarian options, and greater variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables. They’re also educating staff and patients about the health benefits of healthier eating and how their food choices support the local community. 

This year, we had a food day on October 24 and we had more than 230 hospitals committed to participating by agreeing to serve at least one antibiotic-free meat to reduce the impact of antibiotic resistant organisms on patient health. For example, University of California in San Francisco has announced that they will only serve antibiotic free chicken to patients and visitors.

HCBN: What kind of changes does this make to their budgets? 
JH: 
Healthier meat costs more, so meat reduction is a core component to balance the budget. That’s also why it’s important to make the connection between antibiotic resistance costs and the health care costs of treating obesity and diabetes. 

HCBN: What types of challenges do hospitals face with offering healthier options? 
JH: 
I would say, as with any sustainability initiative, it definitely can change the way you do things. Chopping vegetables even, could require a little extra time, maybe some training. Composting is another thing. 

These can be real barriers because many people get nervous with change — they’ve done the same things for a long time. It requires teamwork. One of the key ways to make the change is to provide data. Hospitals are looking for that information to track and report on what they’re doing. This requires participation from their food contract companies. If you’re a larger facility, you’re more likely to get that information you seek, or the smaller organizations have to do a lot of work to get the information they need. 

The power of this transformation that’s taking place is the individual — many passionate individuals out there working to create healthier environments are part of something much larger than just their own efforts. And that aggregate information is a strong message to the businesses providing foods and services to the health care sector. 

http://www.dotmed.com/news/story/24833?p_begin=1

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