Healthy Food: Getting Started
Many health care institutions have begun to adopt practices and policies to support a healthy food system — one that is environmentally sustainable, improves nutritional quality and supports human dignity and justice. Following these case studies, your facility can improve the quality of food choices by choosing among the recommendationsoffered in our Menu of Options (pdf). In each section, follow the link for more resources on the particular issue.
The health care sector is beginning to recognize the link between human and ecological health and how and where food is raised, grown, processed and distributed. Consider developing a "food team" that explores the many background educational pieces to identify ways your institution can get involved (pdf). If your hospital has a 'green team" make sure food service is included. Health facilities may want to begin their food work by laying out a broad, integrated food policy, or by joining the over 200 hospitals that have signed the Healthy Food in Healthcare Pledge. Many systems are creating metrics and benchmarks by following the new Green Guide for Health Care Food Service Credits.
Of increasing concern to health care professionals is antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The scientific consensus is that antibiotic overuse (pdf) in food animals contributes to antibiotic resistance in humans.
Purchase meat and poultry raised without non-therapeutic antibiotics, and poultry without added arsenic
Implement purchasing policies for meat and poultry raised without non-therapeutic antibiotics and poultry without added arsenic (pdf). Several hospitals have now begun to adopt sustainable meat, poultry and seafood purchasing. Meat production is also recognized as one of the leading contributors to food system climate change. Hospitals are developing sustainable meat procurement pilot projects. Consider programs such as the voluntary meat-less Monday program.
Healthcare professionals frequently attend conferences for professional development. Hospitals and health systems host a wide variety of workshops, conferences and symposia both onsite and at local facilities. Whether for onsite meetings, hotel or conference events or for catered food at your hospital, consider developing healthy, sustainable guidelines (pdf) and contract language for your event.
Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (pdf) (rBGH, also know as rBST) is given to dairy cows to increase milk production. The use of this hormone is not allowed in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and all 25 nations of the European Union. The American Nursing Association has called on all nurses and hospitals to look for dairy produced without this unnecessary hormone. Hospitals across the country have phased out the use or dairy produced with rBGH by using the extensive rBGH-free dairy resources (pdf), including contracts, letters and purchasing guides.
By purchasing products that are third-party certified health care systems can help protect the health of their patients, while also helping to protect agricultural workers, and air and water quality in the communities where food is grown and raised. Educate yourself on what organic, fair trade and other eco-labels mean. Buying locally produced foods avoids the massive fuel consumption, and air and water pollution associated with long-distance transport.
Buying local also helps to build relationships between the urban and rural community (pdf) and supports the local economy. Some health care systems have been able to plan seasonal menus and pre-order their produce from local growers before the growing season, providing security for both the grower and buyer. Ask your GPO and distributor for local or certified food, and consider the example of hospitals concerned about the ecological health concerns of genetic engineered foods, that have adopted a genetic engineered foods position statement. Hospitals are bulk buyers of food, they can create markets that supports healthy, environmentally-friendly growing practices. Follow the Green Guide for Healthcare purchasing credit and set benchmarks.
Ironically, 38% of the 16 "Honor Roll" hospitals listed in the 2001 US News & World Report ranking of "America's Best Hospitals" currently have one or more fast food chains located in their institutions. A 2006 report (pdf) by the American Medical Association performed a survey of fast food in healthcare facilities and found that of the 234 hospitals surveyed, 42 percent were selling brand-name fast food on their campuses. Hospitals can review the food service operations within their facilities (patient food, cafeteria food, catering, vending machines and coffee carts) and evaluate whether the food choices offered are consistent with the promotion of healthy dietary patterns for patients, staff and the larger community and whether they are consistent with your organization sustainability initiatives.
The types of food and snacks offered in vending machines should be consistent with dietary recommendations for healthy snacking. Vending machine options could include whole fruit, low fat and low sugar snacks, and water or juice beverages. Hospitals can draft a policy (pdf) that outlines the types of food that would be acceptable in vending machines (i.e. no trans-fat, low in processed sugars and fats, no artificial ingredients, and no preservatives) as well as outlining food packaging standards and energy efficiency of machines.
Farmers' markets and farm stands provide fresh produce to staff, visitors, and patients. Farmers Markets and CSA's support efforts to incorporate healthy foods into diets by increasing availability of fresh, locally grown foods. Farmers markets also generate goodwill in a community, support local growers, and create new community partnerships. Similarily, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or food box programs are very well received by hospitals staff. Learn about the many CSA and Farmers Markets resources.
Vegetable and herb gardens on hospital grounds (pdf) provide not only healthy foods but also much-needed, thriving green spaces. Cut flowers can be sold or used in your facility. Hospital gardens can help foster a sense of community and pride in hospital staff, offer a place of respite for patients and staff, and create opportunities for community members (students, seniors, or others) to be involved. Hospitals might also consider supporting local community garden or sustainable farming organizations located in their commuity.
Food waste comprises approximately 10% of a hospital's waste stream. Food and food waste can be diverted, composted (pdf) or otherwise beneficially reused, instead of being land-filled. Hospitals can further improve their environmental performance by purchasing environmentally preferable food serviceware (pdf), such as bio-based food service ware for "take-out" and recycling kitchen cans and bottles.