Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Practicing what we preach: Hospital Cafeterias

It's relatively common knowledge in the medical field and to many people that poor diet and physical inactivity is a leading "actual" cause of death. It is quickly catching up to tobacco and may soon overtake it to become the leading cause of death in America; no question, a leading public health threat.

So it may seem ironic when a cafeteria at a health care institution actively promotes a leading cause of death. While many institutions have taken the steps to a smoke free campus, saturated fat filled cheese pizza, fries, hamburgers, hot dogs, and macaroni and cheese still seems to be the rule, not the exception.

How would we feel if a hospital not only allowed tobacco on campus, but sold cigarrettes from vending machines? From a public health standpoint, these practices are equally harmful.

The cynical side of me recognizes that other than institutional philosophy, there has been little financial incentive for a hospital cafeteria to provide healthful food (and perhaps even has some incentive to keep their vascular surgeons and cardiac cath lab busy!). This may change if the new payment system under discussion, Accountable Care Organizations becomes the norm where the hospital or provider group stands to save money by promoting a healthy patient population.

So far, it is the rare hospital that has made health a priority. St Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor is one of those, employing a chef from Google and investing $1million to remodel their cafeteria in the name of health; reducing portion sizes, color coding options to help indicate nutritional value, and saying goodbye to their deep fryer.

By popular request, WooFood is actively working with the Cafeteria at UMass Memorial to promote change that will at least encourage healthful options. (Disclaimer; the author of this post is a founding member of WooFood). The need has been recognized by many people including the CEO of UMass Memorial who has stated that the healthcare community needs to practice what it preaches when it comes to healthful options.

What are your thoughts on hospital cafeteria food? How is the food at your school's or hospital's cafeteria? Does a hospital cafeteria have a responsibility to serve healthful foods because it is a healthcare institution?

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