Hospitals serve up health – Part 1

Hospitals promote health and disease prevention by supporting healthy food environments.

Our food environment, the types of foods available near us – at home, in our neighborhoods, at work or school, influences our eating choices. Healthy food environments can make the healthy choice the easy choice and represent an organizational or environmental level intervention that shapes healthy behavior.

Many foods that contribute to poor health and chronic disease of patients seeking care at hospitals can easily be found for sale within the healthcare institution – vending machines, gift shops or the cafeteria. A growing number of hospitals across the country are noticing this irony and responding by taking steps towards improving the food environments within their facilities. These improvements at the institutional level are opportunities to support healthy eating not only for patients, but for staff and visitors, and to model health-promoting behaviors for their communities.

Several strategies exist for implementing a healthier hospital food environment. Best practices suggest the following steps to consider in identifying and implementing the best approach for your site.

  • Organize a diverse team – CEO, or COO, food/culinary services, facilities, communications, a clinician champion, staff from existing wellness campaigns or initiatives, community partners with a similar vision.
  • Food/culinary services representatives are your friend – bring them into the conversation early and often. Use this as an opportunity to educate and seek insight into feasibility of possible changes;
  • Create a plan – use existing resources or create a tool to assess the current hospital food environment; identify changes the team would like to make and their outcomes; outline a timeline for implementation including how steps will be monitored and evaluated;
  • Engage associates – look for opportunities to educate and inform staff; gain their perspective on what is going well and what could be modified or changed.
  • Communicate – develop a communications plan and develop a variety of ways to promote the work.
  • Celebrate successes and seek areas for emerging opportunities.

Healthy hospital food environments are one way that these institutions support health through clinical and preventive approaches. Exciting work is happening in the Great Lakes state to support healthy food for all Michiganders. Michigan State University Extension supports work in Michigan to promote and track healthy food purchases among institutions. Check out Cultivate Michigan, a campaign of the Michigan Farm to Institution Network and the Good Food Charter to learn how you can be involved.

Steps to improve the hospital food environment are often included in worksite wellness initiatives. MSU Extension health and nutrition programming provides educational programs available to worksites. More information can be found at http://msue.anr.msu.edu/program/info/worksite_wellness.

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