When we think of hospital food, the term fresh doesn’t exactly spring to mind. From lime Jello, processed chicken fingers, and soggy French fries, to pre-packaged cookies and giant cups of soft drinks, the cafeterias in hospital and other care facilities still serve some remarkably unhealthy food. Many are even “branded” via prominent alliances with some of the junk food giants, including McDonalds.
While many hospitals seem resigned to the status quo, others are taking note and trying to change the system.
Medical facilities such as Pen Bay (one of ten hospitals in Maine sourcing food from local farmers) face the challenges of a limited budget and ensuring food safety, especially for patients with weak immune systems. This hasn’t stopped them, however, from procuring sound local partnerships with farmers and fisheries.
According to an article in Portland Press Harold,
These hospitals are part of a national movement aimed at improving sustainability, nutrition and community engagement by changing the way hospitals and other institutions source their food.”
Other examples can be found via Healthy Food in Health Care (HFHC), which is a national initiative of Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), developed in conjunction with its member organizations. They have helped coordinate the Healthier Hospital Initiative, (HHI), a platform designed to assist healthcare organizations bring widespread and meaningful change to how institutional food is sourced and served.
The Healthier Hospitals website advocates,
Current methods of food production, processing, packaging and distribution in the U.S. have negatively impacted human health and the environment. Health care providers have the power to counter these trends by purchasing more environmentally-sustainable foods and by serving healthier meals and beverages to patients, employees, visitors and the communities they serve.”
Under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals are now required to develop a “Community Health Improvement Plan” in order to keep their tax-exempt status. This has encouraged facilities such as UMass Memorial Health Center to partner with non-profit Regional Environmental Council to fund and promote a program dedicated to creating backyard gardens for local residents who have traditionally struggled with food insecurity.
Other programs such as Health Rx in Michigan are prescribing healthy fruits and vegetables to address the same types of issues.
With illnesses related to obesity costing an estimated $40 billion, and other diet-related maladies on the rise, these proactive measures within the healthcare system hold great promise.
Healthy Food in Health Care (HFHC) via Noharmuscanada
Main Hospitals Look to Local Fish and vegetables to Improve Heath and Paitient Satisfaction via Portland Press Herald
What We Do via Healthier Hospitals Initiative
Healthier Food via Healthier Hospital Initiative
Regional Environmental Council via Ecworcester.org
Fruit and Vegetable Perscription Program via Ecocenter.org