SOURCE: Health Care Without Harm

Health Care Without Harm

October 23, 2012 12:32 ET

Food Day Finds Health Care Serving Up Healthier, Sustainable Foods

Sustainable Hospital Food Initiatives Gaining Momentum -- a Celebration on Food Day; Note for Reporters: Food Day Is October 24

RESTON, VA--(Marketwire - Oct 23, 2012) -  Hospitals across the nation have begun to implement healthier, more sustainable food service programs with the support and encouragement of Health Care Without Harm's (HCWH) Healthy Food in Health Care (HFHC) Campaign. The campaign is marking Food Day by celebrating accomplishments in sustainability being made in hospital food services across the country. Food Day is a nationwide celebration and a movement for healthy, affordable, and sustainable food.

Because the purchasing power of health care systems is enormous, the decisions health-care institutions make about food can have a substantial impact on public and environmental health. By adopting food procurement policies that are environmentally sound and socially responsible, health care institutions can protect the health of workers, patients and communities, and they can have a positive impact on the ecological health of the planet.

"At Beaumont Hospital, we're committed to sourcing and sustaining a healthy food environment for people to be able to make good choices from the patient menu, the cafeteria and even the vending machines. As a Healthy Food Pledge signer, our health system is working to source local, sustainable foods, purchase healthier beverages and reduce the amount of meat served to protect human and environmental health," said Christine Eagle, clinical nutrition manager, Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, MI. 

This year, the Campaign surveyed hospitals from around the country to see what initiatives are making a difference; more than seventy-five hospitals participated. Overall, many health care sites emphasized recent efforts to increase sustainable food procurement and healthy food availability, promote sustainable food programming such as on-site farmers markets, gardens, and community supported agriculture (CSA) shares, and reduce food service waste.

In California, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers is now successfully selling to three hospitals in the Bay Area. "This summer, these hospitals regionally sourced 721 pounds of local, organic strawberries, 3830 pounds of local green beans, and 1440 pounds of local stone fruit," says Lucia Sayre, Co-Coordinator of Healthy Food in Health Care Campaign and Food Matters Program. Hospitals and local NGOs in California have developed the Regional Produce Purchasing Project to help increase the availability of sustainable, local produce through increasing the market share dedicated to sourcing food from family farms.  

Other purchasing efforts have exploded in Maryland through the Buy Local Challenge. "Participation in this Challenge is a great way for hospitals to engage their entire communities in thinking about the choices we make about our food," says Louise Mitchell, Mid-Atlantic sustainable foods program manager. "The Challenge can be a first step towards hospitals changing their long-term buying habits; in just the week of this Challenge, these hospitals spent more than $53,000 on foods from local farmers. Also, most of the 54 hospitals who took this year's Challenge are now buying local fruits and vegetables throughout the year and 11 are buying local sustainable beef and/or poultry regularly." This region also noted 23 health care facilities in Maryland and DC, and 2 in Virginia are among more than 396 hospitals nationwide that have signed the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, another good starting point for hospitals.

Additionally, the Healthy Food in Health Care Campaign creates challenges and accompanies them with tools and resources to support hospitals in making the transition -- like the Healthy Beverages Initiative or Balanced Menus Challenge. The latter asks hospitals to commit to reducing meat and poultry purchases by 20 percent. "It's not a one-size-fits-all challenge," says Kathy Pryor, the Food Work Group's co-lead of on the Balanced Menus project. "Even hospitals that weren't able to achieve a 20 percent reduction were able to get their cafeteria meals more in line with federal dietary recommendations. [Hospitals] used their cost savings... to buy items they wanted more of, like sustainably-raised meat, produce, or dairy."

To support hospitals in their commitment, goal setting, and tracking for sustainability initiatives in the kitchen the HFHC Campaign has recently teamed up with the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) to create the Healthier Food Challenge. HHI, a national sustainability agenda for the health care sector, supports enrolled hospitals and health systems in setting goals and tracking progress in several areas of sustainable operations. By taking this free challenge, healthcare facilities join other leading hospitals that recognize the opportunity to improve the health of their customers (employees, patients, and visitors) and the health of the environment. To date over 150 hospitals across the country have enrolled in the HHI Healthier Food Challenge.

In addition to regionally tracking the progress of sustainable food service in the health care sector, HCWH conducts the HFHC National Survey & Awards Program bi-annually. According to 2011 survey & awards coordinator Hillary Bisnett, "Our awards program does more than just recognize significant achievement and leadership among the hospitals working on the initiatives, it spurs competition to achieve measurable, lasting results and encourages continuous improvement with an emphasis on quantitative versus qualitative results." The next survey is set to take place in January of 2013, and the Awards Ceremony will take place at the HCWH national CleanMed Conference on April 24-26, 2013 in Boston, MA.

The Healthy Food in Health Care (HFHC) Program is a national initiative of Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), developed in conjunction with its member organizations, which mobilizes advocates to work with hospitals across the country to help improve the sustainability of their food services. The program provides education, tools, resources, and support to health care facilities making the connection between the health of their patients, staff and community and the food they serve. Heath Care without Harm, an international coalition of more than 500 organizations in 53 countries, is working to transform the health care sector, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment. For more information about the HCWH Healthy Food in Health Care Program, visit www.healthyfoodinhealthcare.org. To learn more about HCWH's work, visit our website at www.noharm.org, our YouTube channel at HCwithoutharm, and our twitter feed at hcwithoutharm.