Healthier hospital food? New Michigan effort mirrors existing programs at St. Joe's, U-M
A new anti-obesity effort urges hospitals to put the health back into hospital food, pushing for locally grown foods and more nutritional choices for patients, staff and especially young visitors, the Michigan Health & Hospital Association announced today.
In Washtenaw County, St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan Health System already are at the forefront of the new effort aimed at combating the obesity epidemic in Michigan starting at hospitals, said Brian Peters, executive vice president of the MHA.
Michigan is the 10th most obese state in the country, with nearly a third of adults and more than one in 10 children are obese, according to the MHA.
The advocacy group's new "Healthy Food Hospitals" initiative is a voluntary, four-star program aimed at addressing healthy eating and weight management.
To earn the stars, hospitals have to make a commitment to buy 20 percent Michigan-grown and -produced food products by 2020.
Participants should also provide nutritional content labels to cafeteria and menu items and improve nutritional value of patient menus for food and beverages by 2013.
File photo | AnnArbor.com
Rob Casalou, the CEO of St. Joseph Mercy Health System’s Ann Arbor, Saline and Howell hospitals, is excited about the effort.
“We’re attacking the obesity issue by starting with ourselves first,” Casalo said. “What can we do with our own people that visit our campus? What can we provide? Good food. We’ve got to start at home, and then spread the word.”
St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor is one of the few hospital campuses in the country that employs a farmer and operates its own working farm, including hoop houses that grow year round and help supply hospital campus farmer’s markets.
Peters said MHA’s initiative could nudge more hospitals to create farms like St. Joe’s.
The hospital also has been revamping menus for several years.
All French fries are baked and unsalted. The Philly cheese steak sandwich - and numerous other items - meet American Heart Association guidelines. Yogurts options include low-sugar and low fat.
You won’t find sugary juices anywhere on the campus, and the milk is low fat and hormone free. Patient menus include nutritional information. And there are no deep fryers, anywhere.
Every week day at UMHS, 12,000 customers purchase food and beverages from University Hospital Cafeteria and other retail outlets like the Atrium CafÃ© at the U-M Cardiovascular Center. Additionally, hospital patients consume 1,500 meals per day.
UMHS has made healthy strides in their menu options, especially in the last five years, with home-grown programs like MHealthy, which created nutritional guidelines for healthy food options.
UMHS has started to nutritionally label foods within its retail food operations, like the cafeteria, although there is still work to be done. One of the criteria is for hospitals to have a labeling program in place for cafeteria offerings.
The UMHS labeling program was a model for the MHA’s new healthy foods guidelines, said Craig Luck, the administrative manager of contracted food services, like the hospital cafeteria.
The patient menu at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital includes a majority of healthy options. Staff who answer the phone are coached to lead parents and patients to healthy choices.
The new program will push the heath system to do even more.
While the vast majority of juices are natural, there is one juice patients love that contains added sugar, said Joyce Kerestes, the director of patient food and nutrition services at UMHS. To achieve the transition to healthy beverages, one of the four-star criteria under the MHA’s Health Foods Hospitals campaign, that juice would have to go.
It’s a delicate balance, Kerestes and Luck said.
UMHS wants to educate visitors and patients about healthy foods, “But we don’t want to be the food police,” Luck said.
If a sick kid wants ice cream, no one is going to try to talk the child out of it, he added.
The Ecology Center in Ann Arbor has been working behind the scenes with the MHA to make it easier for health systems to locate locally grown foods. Major suppliers like Sysco often source, but don’t label, local foods, especially produce, said Hillary Bisnett, healthy food and health care coordinator.
The Ecology Center has helped suppliers make the change, starting with a pilot program that helped suppliers label Michigan apples last year, which hospitals then purchased.
The Ecology Center hopes the MHA’s initiative will help to change practices in the the supply chain, but help the economy by leveraging the purchasing power of hospitals to bump the need for food businesses, like more local food processing plants.
Often food is produced here, but processed in nearby states like Indiana or Ohio, she said.
The MHA has had success with previous campaigns. It's been working to get unhealthy trans fats out of all hospital foods for almost two years, Peters said.
And following an anti-smoking campaign, almost all hospitals in the state have smoke-free campuses, a more comprehensive ban than required by the Michigan law work place smoking ban that went into effect in 2010.