Health and economic benefits from hospital investment in a sustainable food system


The support of health care administrators is needed to link the healing mission of hospitals to the purchasing and serving of sustainably produced food that is healthy for patients, staff, and guests. These purchasing patterns will help to transform the food system at large into a system that supports human health, environmental stewardship, and social justice for farm workers

The current food system in the United States contributes to common and costly diet-related diseases including heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Without action by the health care sector, the prevalence of these diseases and their financial burden on our health care system and society will grow.

Making the business case for sustainably produced food as a cornerstone for health means understanding that investments in a sustainable food system is crucial to improving the health of patients and staff within hospital walls as well as supporting food access in the surrounding community.

Leadership involvement in sustainability efforts is the difference between having an “initiative” and becoming a top performer in environmental stewardship. Practice Greenhealth has repeatedly found that the most successful health care sustainability programs have significant support from health care leadership.

In the health care sector, a growing recognition that sustainability is inextricably linked to human health has motivated many health care organizations to begin integrating sustainability into organizational strategy.

This brief reveals four ways that investments in a sustainable food system may reduce disease burden as well as financially benefit individual hospitals and health systems.

  1. Provision of healthier food offerings in cafeterias to improve employee productivity.

  2. Investment in the local food system may be implemented under the community benefit standard to reduce poverty and prevent or treat diet-related disease.

  3. Improvement of patient access to healthy food after leaving the facility may reduce readmission rates and their associated costs by helping patients maintain a better diet.

  4. Procurement of sustainably-produced foods to reduce the health risks to vulnerable populations that are most likely to be uninsured or underinsured.


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