ANNAPOLIS—Plant-based meals may soon be on the menu at Maryland hospitals and prisons. The 2020 Maryland Plant-Based Meal Bill, introduced by Del. Terri Hill, MD, will require hospitals and prisons to make available plant-based meal options containing no animal products or by-products, including meat, poultry, fish, dairy, or eggs.
The 2020 Maryland Plant-Based Meal Bill states: “Research has shown that the consumption of plant-based meals can reduce and even reverse chronic degenerative diseases that require life-long reliance on medications to manage and can reduce overall health care costs and prison food costs.”
According to the Maryland Department of Health, chronic lifestyle-related diseases—including heart disease, diabetes, and stroke—are among the state’s leading causes of death.
“As a physician, I spend much of my time counseling Marylanders on how to reduce their risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related diseases,” says Jasmol Sardana, DO, medical doctor at the Barnard Medical Center. “It’s great to see Maryland investing in public health by making plant-based options a priority.”
In June 2017, the American Medical Association passed the Healthy Food Options in Hospitals resolution that calls on U.S. hospitals to improve the health of patients, staff, and visitors by providing plant-based meals. The American College of Cardiology made the same recommendation in Planting a Seed: Heart-Healthy Food Recommendations for Hospitals, encouraging health care providers to use hospitalization as a “teachable moment” to discuss nutrition with their patients.
“It’s not uncommon for patients to wake up from surgery to be greeted with bacon and eggs—the very foods that may have contributed to their health problems in the first place,” says Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee. “By passing this bill, Maryland will ensure that patients have access to foods that will aid in their healing, rather than undermine their recovery.”
Research shows that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans, can help fight heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer. But only 9 percent of adults in Maryland meet the daily vegetable intake recommendation, and only 14 percent meet the daily fruit intake recommendation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Chronic diseases are Maryland’s leading contributor to health care costs, accounting for 75 percent of the state’s health care spending. The bill aims to provide substantial savings to the state in direct medical costs and indirect costs related to work loss, disability, and premature death.
St. Joseph Health System in Sonoma County, Calif., added more plant-based meals to the menu and reports, “Vegetarian entrees cost about 50 percent less than meat entrees.” The hospital projects saving $5,000 a year by serving more meat-free meals.
In 2018, California passed a law mandating plant-based hospital meals. The New York State Legislature passed a similar bill last year. A similar bill has been introduced in Washington, D.C.’s City Council.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.