Healthy Hospital Food Initiative
A Survey and Analysis of Food Served at Hospitals by the
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and ADinfinitum
Healthy food is almost as important to healing as competent medical care, and healthy eating habits play a critical role in preventing chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Are hospital eating establishments meeting the need for low-fat, low-cholesterol, immune-boosting foods that can aid in recovery and promote health? To answer that question, nutrition professionals with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) worked with ADinfinitum, Inc., to create the Healthy Hospital Food Initiative Questionnaire, a survey and analysis of menus and foods served at cafeterias and restaurants at hospitals across the country.
This questionnaire was distributed by the Spirit of Women hospital network to 40 hospitals or hospital systems. In addition to basic hospital demographic questions, the survey asked 14 general questions about cafeteria offerings and requested a daily menu and a recipe for one of the “healthiest entrée menu items available from the hospital’s main eating establishment.” PCRM nutritionists then analyzed these menus and recipes for healthfulness.
The survey results, summarized in Table 1, show that the majority of hospitals are trying to offer some health-promoting food choices to customers, though substantial opportunities for improvement remain. All hospitals that responded reported offering at least one reduced-fat product and one fresh or cooked vegetable side dish daily. Eighty percent or more of responding hospitals also reported offering whole-grain products, sugar-free snacks, fresh fruit, and a daily offering of a low-fat entrée or side dish. A minority of the responding hospitals (17 percent) have a fast-food establishment.
But a review of the hospitals’ menus (see Table 2 ) reveals a disturbing fact: On many days at some hospitals, patients and visitors cannot find a low-fat, cholesterol-free entrée in the main cafeteria or restaurant. Fewer than one-third of hospitals surveyed offered either a daily salad bar or a daily low-fat vegetarian entrée.
Moreover, a nutritional analysis reveals that many entrées described as healthful by hospitals are actually very high in fat (see Table 3). Sixty-two percent of these “healthiest entrée” offerings derived more than 30 percent of calories from fat, and a few derived more than 50 percent of calories from fat.