Hospitals' efforts to change the diets of staff and patients will require more than just replacing french fries with carrots, according to the not-for-profit group Partnership for a Healthier America.
To really change a culture and behavior, leaders need to commit to the efforts, provide support to staff, collaborate with food vendors and work with dietitians to develop educational programs that truly promote change. Hospitals must also invest in inventory and equipment.
Partnership for a Healthier America, which aims to promote healthier food options in hospitals, published those recommendations as part of a three-year assessment of five hospitals that were part of the Hospital Healthier Food Initiative. The results were published Friday in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.
Healthier Hospitals began with 150 participants in 2012 and has since expanded to include more than 700 facilities. The program includes a set of guidelines hospitals should meet to ensure healthier food purchasing.
Partnership is one of a number of initiatives launched in recent years aimed at improving hospitals' menu options. Others, such as the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, were founded by some of the country's largest health systems such as Dignity Health, Catholic Health Initiatives and Kaiser Permanente.
The move toward buying fresh fruits, vegetables, preparing meals from scratch as opposed to serving premade food, and removing products high in sugar and salt from vending machines has been part of a growing trend to improve community health.
One of those efforts included removing fast-food chains such as McDonald's from a number of hospital campuses in recent years.
“There's been a remarkable shift in the landscape around healthy food in healthcare,” said study co-author Amaris Bradley, a senior manager at Partnership for a Healthier America. “More and more hospitals are adopting different strategies to improve the environment in their hospitals and cafeterias.”
Healthcare organizations have skin in the game. The direct medical-care costs associated with obesity are estimated at $147 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity is one of the nation's largest drivers of chronic disease and cost. Obese patients spend 42% on medical care than those who are a healthy weight.