How to Improve Dietary Standards within Hospitals

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Written by Jay Fremont Is Your Hospital Properly Feeding Patients? While hospital fare is unlikely get a thumbs-up from Zagat's reviewers any time...

Written by Jay Fremont


Is Your Hospital Properly Feeding Patients?

While hospital fare is unlikely get a thumbs-up from Zagat's reviewers any time soon, the food that hospitals are providing for patients in the United States shows significant signs of improvement, both nutritionally and in its overall appeal to diners. Much, however, remains to be done.

Some of America's hospitals continue to serve patients an unappealing diet that includes meat of questionable origin and rubbery gelatin desserts in colors not previously known to man.

Making matters worse, many hospitals have fast-food outlets operating in cooperation with their cafeterias or as stand-alone outlets off the hospital lobbies.

At the very least, such fast-food shops set a poor example and, in practice, provide the source for unhealthy food smuggled to patients by otherwise well-meaning family members and friends.

Initiatives for Better Food

A good deal of the credit for recent positive changes must go to national, state, and local initiatives that have as their goal the establishment of standards to improve the image of hospital food. Although there's little likelihood of anyone mistaking it for cordon bleu fare, most hospital food is not what it once was, and that's a good thing.

One of the most ambitious campaigns at the national level was launched in the fall of 2012 by the Washington-based Partnership for a Healthier America.

The organization, originally founded to combat the growing problem of childhood obesity, partnered with hospital food providers and hospitals to provide more healthy food options in their institutions.

Better Nutrition, Less Fast Food

Called the Hospital Healthy Food Initiative, the PHA-sponsored program aims not only to improve the nutrition of meals fed to patients but also the food offered in the hospitals' cafeterias.

Some of the country's biggest hospitals and hospital chains, as well as hospital caterers, were among the first companies to join PHA's campaign. Current partners include Centura Health, Children's Hospital of Chicago, Henry Ford Health System, Kaiser Permanente, Maine Health, Morrison Healthcare Food Services, Oregon Health & Science University, University of Colorado Health, and University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics.

If your local hospital is not yet part of this PHA initiative, you might consider a grassroots letter writing campaign asking hospital officials to join the Hospital Healthy Food Initiative.

PHA Campaign's Recommendations

In its report on the goals and early success of the PHA campaign, USA Today took a closer look at some of the specific recommendations embodied in the Hospital Healthy Food Initiative.

Partners in the PHA program are asked to:

* Increase the amount and variety of fruit and vegetables on their patient menus and in their cafeterias;

*Replace all salty and sugary foods displayed near cafeteria cash registers with healthy food options;

*Remove all deep-fried foods from patient and cafeteria offerings;

*Offer healthier beverages, such as water, unflavored low-fat and fat-free milk, 100 percent natural fruit and vegetable juices, tea, and coffee;

*Add to patient menus and cafeteria offerings a low-calorie healthy meal and a healthy children's meal as regular daily selections. These meals must be priced the same or less than comparable cafeteria selections.

Michigan Takes Action

Among the successful state programs to improve the quality and nutrition of hospital food is Michigan's Health Food Hospitals initiative, launched in 2010. The framework of the program is a list of four goals that member hospitals must meet.

The first three goals, each with a deadline in early 2013, call for hospitals to serve pediatric patients between the ages of 2 and 18 menus that meet the American Heart Association standards; transition to healthy beverages; and label nutritional content in cafeteria offerings.

The final goal, set for Jan. 1, 2020, calls upon hospitals to source at least 20 percent of their food from Michigan-based growers, processors, and producers.

NYC Program

On the local level, New York City in September 2012 announced a renewed push to rid city hospitals of unhealthy food, particularly the sugary and salty snacks and menu selections in cafeterias and vending machines.

New York's 15 public hospitals had previously taken steps to cut calories and improve the overall nutritional value of meals served to patients. But the new campaign targets other food sources in hospitals, namely cafeterias and vending machines.

While the city's public hospitals must comply with fast-food restrictions imposed by the new measures, several private institutions in the city have recognized the value of the program. Fifteen private hospitals had joined the campaign as of late September 2012.

So, is your hospital feeding patients what they really need and want?


About the Author

Jay Fremont is a freelance author who has written extensively about personal finance, corporate strategy, social media, and Charles E. Phillips.


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