Hospitals are a place where people go to get healthy, but the same can't be said about all hospital cafeterias, according to a recent study by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).
The study analyzed food served to patients, staff, and visitors at U.S. hospitals in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and found that some hospitals housed as many as five fast-food outlets and featured menus that were dominated by foods high in fat, cholesterol, sugar, and sodium. For hospitalists, many of whom spend 50, 70, and even 90 hours per week in the hospital, the lack of healthy eating options can be especially problematic.
"We relied on menus that were provided, and while we don't have the recipes in hand, we can tell a lot just by the fundamental ingredients," says Susan Levin, RD, PCRM's director of nutrition education and lead author of the study.
Levin says the presence of these kinds of foods in hospitals is "irresponsible," and suggests hospitals ban fast-food outlets and fill menus with low-fat, plant-based options as a way to "reverse and prevent disease."
Many hospital cafeterias around the country are doing just that. MetroWest Medical Center, just outside of Boston, has formed a "Go Green" committee that plans to group and label healthy versus nonhealthy drinks and snacks, and will reward patients and hospital staff for choosing water and other healthy options. Benioff Children's Hospital at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center now offers nutritional information for entrees, and food-purchase receipts note calories and fat content.
PCRM hopes the study will encourage hospitals to lead the way in promoting healthful eating habits. "I hope that something is changing and people are thinking bigger picture and better care," Levin says.