Have you ever been to one of the leading hospitals in the world – and seen a McDonald’s inside the building? I have. Have you asked the CEO of a hospital renowned for its cardiac care why they serve chili cheeseburgers and curly fries in their cafeteria and heard, “People are here with family emergencies – they need comfort food”? Been there. Have you been offered cheese eggs with biscuits and gravy at an award-winning hospital while you waiting for your Dad’s heart procedure? Just last month.
I’m not saying it’s a sin to be unhealthy – but isn’t there something bizarre about a hospital making money to treat ailments created by the food the hospital itself serves? Aside from my personal experiences, the facts are startling. Researchers at the UCLA School of Medicine and the RAND Corporation examined the menus at 14 children’s hospitals in California and discovered that only 7% of the nearly 400 entrees were considered healthy.
“As health professionals, we understand the connection between healthy eating and good health, and our hospitals should be role models in this regard,” said Lenard Lesser, MD, the study’s primary investigator.
Thankfully, an increasing number of healthcare leaders are making it convenient, affordable, and even cool to grab a healthy meal. Leading the way are three Limeade clients: Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and Swedish Medical Center.
Lucile Packard Children’s launched a wide-scale initiative to make them the healthiest children’s hospital in the country. The plan involves introducing healthy practices throughout the hospital, from encouraging the use of stairs to revamping the cafeteria menu. Instead of Triple Baconators®, you’ll find whole-grain pasta, and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. More good news: people like it. Packard Children’s cafeteria rates an average of four out of five stars on Yelp, with special kudos for its turkey burgers.
Similarly, Cincinnati Children’s not only recognizes the value of offering healthy food for their patients and employees, but drives them to healthier choices by color-coding their cafeteria food based on health and fat content. It’s a proven method: a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health cites that simple changes such as marking foods and beverages with red (least healthy), yellow (moderately healthy), and green (most healthy) labels – and making them more visible – encouraged cafeteria customers to buy more of the healthy options. Sales of red items dropped 14.1 percent, and sales of green items increased 5.3 percent.
And what about hospital vending machines? Since no one likes getting lots of change, why not charge $1.01 for candy and $.99 for almonds? Swedish Medical Center restacked their vending machines with unhealthy snacks in the bottom row and healthy options right in the center.
The lesson? Packaging, pricing, and placement matter. Make it easy to buy healthy food. Make it hard to buy crappy food. Package healthy food in a fun way. Don’t use the lame “comfort food” excuse.
Be a leader. Ditch the fryer.