Ah, the irony of hospital food: in a place where medical intervention and healing are the top priorities, Jell-O and corn dogs can be found on patient trays and in cafeterias. The mixed message is clear: in a place that is designed to prolong life, the menus include foods that may hasten your death. Some institutions even deserve to be called “McHospitals”—for whatever reasons, including convenience or economy, these hospitals have opted to let fast food establishments operate on their premises.
Thankfully, this arrangement is becoming more and more antiquated as many hospitals around the country are embracing healthier, locally produced food. And, due to pressure from groups like Corporate Accountability International (CAI) and the Physicians Committee on Responsible Medicine (PCRM), there will be one less McHospital next year.
Allina Health, the parent group for Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, announced earlier this month that it would terminate its 25-year relationship with McDonald’s. Jeremy Olson of the Star Tribune quotes Dr. Penny Wheeler, Allina’s president and chief executive:
As an organization focused on health, it is our responsibility to model and encourage healthy choices.”
Well put, but what took so long? According to Olson, in its 13 hospital and 90 clinics Allina will remove 77 vending machines and rid their cafeteria menus of high-fat foods. Not exactly a farm-to-hospital-bed revolution, but it’s no small step, and it has some larger implications.
Why does this one hospital matter?
CAI has been working hard on Abbott Northwestern and Allina for over three years, so this is a hard-fought victory. On the grander scale, Alllina’s is a big step toward more large healthcare systems and providers acknowledging the vital importance of food in health care.
At the beginning of this year, PCRM released their fifth report on food in hospitals. A recent article in their winter newsletter notes over 20 hospitals with Chick-fil-A’s, 18 with McDonald’s and five with Wendy’s. These are large, public hospitals, and all are recipients of public funding. Given the amount of public dollars that go into treating preventable patient conditions to which fast-food has clear correlations, it should be a no-brainer that hospitals get rid of this food. Neal Barnard, President of PCRM explains the non-profit’s stance:
The previous generation dealt with cigarettes. now it’s time to tackle meat, cheese and all the fat and cholesterol they are packing into patients arteries. Hospitals need to end contracts with fast-food chains selling Big Macs, Chicken nuggets and double bacon cheeseburgers."
Healthy Food in Hospitals Is Entirely Possible
PCRM acknowledged that three other hospitals on their list (Cleveland Clinic, Children's Hospital Los Angeles, and Driscoll Children's Hospital in Texas) have ended contracts with fast food companies. They are also going after more (sign their petition to Children’s Hospital of Georgia). The next step for these institutions, though, is to embrace the growing trend of hospitals using local, seasonal and fresh ingredients. In an article written earlier this year, Steve Holt of Civil Eats explained that due to new Affordable Care Act mandates, we may see the list of healthier food-focused hospitals continue to grow:
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), all nonprofit hospitals must develop a Community Health Improvement Plan to keep their tax-exempt status. The ACA requires these institutions to work with community groups and other stakeholders to complete community health needs assessments every three years and to craft a plan based on the needs they find.
...now, hospitals must demonstrate that they are working to “prevent illness, to ensure adequate nutrition, or to address social, behavioral, and environmental factors that influence health in the community.”
Holt divines that the requirement to focus on nutrition and community programs will make a focus on fresh and local food an attainable and necessary move for hospitals."
Let’s hope so!
We are grateful for the work of CAI, PCRM and other groups that are working towards helping larger medical establishments use food as medicine.
- Hazardous Hospital Food via Good Medicine (a PCRM Publication)
- Minneapolis' Abbott Northwestern will close its McDonald's via Star Tribune
- Kicking McDonald's out: the hospitals getting serious about food via the Guardian
- Hospitals Supporting Healthy, Local Food? Thanks, Obama via Civil Eats