Join the Green Mo’ Revolution to get our delicious, healthy food into hospitals!
There is an ancient Chinese proverb: “He who takes medicine and neglects diet wastes the skill of his doctors”. Hippocrates himself stressed, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”. And that was long before the industrial revolution, when food stopped being… well, food.
It is so clear that what we put into our bodies, is a fundamental component of what happens to those bodies. It’s been shown that the four leading causes of death (and healthcare costs) in the US – stroke, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes – are all directly linked to what we eat (1). Processed chemicals, refined carbohydrates and saturated fats make us sick. Vegetables make us healthy. And if good food helps us heal, when we’re sick, it should be our first stop.
But if you’ve had anyone you know make a hospital visit lately, I’m sure the first thing they’ll tell you about is the food – and they won’t be singing its praises!
Hospital food is famously bad. In many facilities across Western countries, meals are outsourced to a catering company, who provide frozen, processed meals ready for reheating.
A 2016 study published by clinical nutrition showed that over 40% of patients were shown to be malnourished, increasing medical stays by an average of 3 days, at a cost of $1500-$2000 per patient (2), whilst another showed that dissatisfaction with food quality is significantly associated with nutritional decline (3).
This is true of both patient meals and cafeteria offerings. Hundreds of hospitals host McDonald’s, Tim Hortons, Chick-a-filet, Starbucks or other mega-unhealthy chains. In fact, 1/3 of pediatric hospitals have a McDonalds in them (4). Isn’t that crazy?!
A report by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (5) ranked US hospitals on their menus, adding points for healthy ingredients such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, cholesterol free entrees, meatless Mondays, gardens and farmers markets. They took points for hospitals who had contracts with fast food restaurants.
They concluded that whilst hospitals are beginning to improve, there is still room for improvement, with disease-promoting meat and dairy and many hospitals with fast food outlets. They believe that the problem is in the environment around healthful food. As Dr Kim Williams, M.D., told the International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine, he had a patient who was vegetarian going into hospital, but came out eating unhealthy meat and dairy, as “the hospital fed it to me, so I figured it was ok.”
It’s not OK – IARC at the World Health Organization classified red meats as a level 2A carcinogen (6). Processed meats such as cold lunch meats, hot dogs, sausages and bacon, go-to entrees for
hospitals worldwide – are now a level 1 carcinogen (6), in the same category as Asbestos and smoking. Excessive meat and dairy and refined carbohydrates have been linked to cardiac health, cancer, diabetes and so many more.
Why does this happen? Is this madness? Doesn’t it seem directly contradictory – feeding sick people who are trying to get healthy, the food that makes them sick??
Well, it’s not quite so simple as all that.
Both the Canadian Medical Association, and Canadian Healthcare Association both stress how important food and nutrition are, but neither has as of yet taken a position on hospital food for public health, leaving it up to hospitals to decide for themselves what to serve, and what the budget is. With wildly spiralling hospital costs, many hospital execs don’t prioritize healthy, local food, and opt for the cheap n’ nasty. Contracts with popular, profitable fast-food restaurants can provide valuable income streams for cash-strapped hospitals.
Not to mention, the public perception is still that meat and dairy are required, in abundance, for a healthy diet – and as trusted healthcare authorities, it is hospitals’ role to lead by example.
So what’s being done?
Nearly 10,000 people have signed the PCRM’s petition, Make Hospital Patient Rooms Fast Food–Free.
The UK’s Soil Association, the largest organic and farming trade group, is campaigning hard against the ‘rotten’ quality of British hospital food, and in their report First Aid for Hospital Food, they state that dozens are now ‘leading by example’ serving healthy, seasonal foods without raising costs (7).
In the US, initiatives like the healthier hospitals program (8) are engaging hospitals and helping them to adopt healthier food practice. Over here in Canada, the Healthy Food in Hospitals program (9), housed at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and led by the Champlain Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Network, has so far 20 hospitals involved in committing to their tiered program encouraging healthier habits.
A new report by Canadian healthcare think tank, the C.D. Howe Institute (10), suggests that provinces could collaborate for integrated healthcare payment reforms, as current payment models contribute to poor patient outcomes and high costs. This could free up budgets to focus on better healthy food models.
One thing is clear – federal government intervention is necessary to drive change on a massive scale. With the new Canadian Food Guide recommendations (11) emphasizing plant protein and taking out dairy, it looks like we’re on the right path.
In the meantime, individuals can petition hospital decision-makers to drive change in their communities, and spread the message about plant-based health to help create an informed community.
As for The Green Moustache? We’re trying to get our deliciously organic, plant-based healing foods into BC’s hospital cafés, to give patients, health practitioners and visitors options to promote health. If you’d like to see us succeed, sign and share the petition at
https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/get-health-food-into-hospitals/ and join the Green Mo Revolution!
As Robin O’Brien, author, speaker and driver for food industry change, put it: “We pay the doctor to make us better, when we should really be paying the farmer to keep us healthy.”