Faced with an overwhelming obesity epidemic across the nation, the United States government is working to increase public access to healthy food at schools. Starting with a major overhaul of the school lunch program which increased access to fruits, vegetables, and whole grains both in the lunchroom and in vending machines, the government is now encouraging healthy eating habits in public places including the hospital setting.
Why Target a Hospital Setting?
Hospitals are where we go to get well, but all too often the food available to patients and visitors doesn’t meet the basic standards for nutrition. In addition, hospitals serve as major employers and influencers in the local communities. They can influence community norms by adopting policies that promote good health in their employees and patrons. In August 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity convened an expert panel to study ways to improve food choices, physical activity, breastfeeding, and tobacco-free environments in hospitals. The panel worked to identify strategies to improve these areas within hospitals and health organizations for both employees, visitors, and patrons and also made recommendations on how to incorporate these strategies into outreach efforts.
Food, Beverage, and Vending Machine Recommendations
One important recommendation made by the panel was that the hospital’s food policy should cover all venues including cafeterias, vending machines, gift shops, and cafeterias. Offering healthy food in the cafeteria is a great start, but if it doesn’t extend throughout the building the policy declines rapidly in effectiveness. This recommendation addresses a key finding that many hospital’s vending machines were dominated by high sugar drinks and high energy dense foods. In other words, foods and drinks that had many calories and very little nutritional value.
Another key aspect of the report was that health organizations have a part to play in the greater community, not simply in the lives of their patients. By encouraging patrons and employees alike to engage in healthier behaviors and make better food choices, these organizations are able to impact societal norms and make a difference in the nationwide fight against obesity.
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