Healthy Hospital Food Initiative
A Survey and Analysis of Food Served at Hospitals by the
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and ADinfinitum
Healthy Hospital Food Initiative
PCRM and ADinfinitum created the Healthy Hospital Food Initiative Questionnaire to assess the state of food served in hospital restaurants and cafeterias. The questionnaire is part of a larger initiative designed to encourage hospitals to set an example for medical staff, visitors, and patients by serving wholesome, low-fat, cholesterol-free foods that promote health. In this survey of food served in cafeterias at Spirit of Women hospitals, the initiative set out to identify areas of excellence and areas of greatest need.
Fast Food in Hospitals
Some doctors, patients, and consumer groups are voicing concern over the foods served in hospital cafeterias and restaurants. These concerns are supported by a large body of scientific evidence showing that unhealthy eating habits increase the risk of many serious health problems. Obesity rates in the United States are at an all-time high, and diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and other diet-related health problems continue to plague millions of Americans. Meanwhile, a large body of research shows that low-fat, plant-based eating habits can aid recovery from heart disease and some types of cancer.
Some hospitals rely on fast-food purveyors to offer meals to staff and visitors. But a 2005 study published in The Lancet confirmed what consumers have known for years: Consumption of fast food is bad for the waistline.1 Thirty years of data linking dietary choices to heart disease risk supports Framingham Heart Study director Dr. William Castelli’s memorable quip, “When you see the Golden Arches, you’re probably on the road to the Pearly Gates.”2 Some high-selling traditional hospital cafeteria items—meatloaf, fried chicken, and Salisbury steak, for example—also deliver an excess of saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt.
The good news is that many hospitals around the country are instituting creative changes in the foods offered to patrons. These efforts range from small improvements to comprehensive initiatives.
Dr. Toby Cosgrove, heart surgeon and head of the Cleveland Clinic, is working to rid his hospital of fast-food establishments. Dr. Cosgrove has stated, “We have to set an example with the food we serve our patients and employees.”3
Deane Bussiere, the chef at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, California, is demonstrating that organic, sustainably grown, in-season food prepared like that in a high-end restaurant can be provided in a hospital cafeteria. With items such as Thai basil tofu and spinach, roasted garlic and tomato soup, quinoa, and a winter root vegetable medley on the menu, Bussiere focuses on keeping things flavorful and healthy. To achieve this, 60 of the 70 menu items offered at the hospital are either vegetarian or vegan. In addition to contracting with a nonprofit, community-based organic farm that trains farm workers to be organic farmers, Bussiere buys organic produce grown by local high school students in a garden on the hospital grounds.4
In Austin, Texas, the Sustainable Food Center is piloting a “farm produce-to-hospital” program designed to promote healthy hospital food. Director Suzanne Santos sees the program as a win-win-win situation for farms, hospitals, and consumers. Santos notes that hospitals are ideal places to teach customers about the pleasures and benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables.5 Similar arrangements are in place at hospitals in Vermont, North Carolina, Iowa, and other states.6
At Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, California, a survey of customers several years ago provided the impetus to increase the number of healthy vegetarian items, the selection of low-fat soups, and the availability of cuisines from around the world. Staff there note that the biggest trend at the hospital over the last few years is a growing demand for vegetarian food, especially among physicians and other healthcare professionals wanting to practice what they recommend.7
(Note: the hospitals named in this section are not part of the Spirit of Women hospital network.)