Communications: Patient Education

Patient Education: Choose a Health Care Facility That Offers Healthy Food

Monday, August 31, 2009  
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Buying food locally, serving organically grown produce, and offering food choices with high nutritional value are just some of the ways your hospital or health care facility can help to create a food system that promotes the well-being of the entire community. With attention to the way food is grown, to the ways it is packaged, shipped, prepared, and discarded, hospitals’ food purchasing decisions and food service practices can play important roles in promoting healthy lifestyles and choices, preventing chronic disease, and contributing to ecological health.

"As places of healing, hospitals should provide food that’s healthy for people and for the environment,” said David Hutchinson, a family physician in Duluth, Minnesota and immediate past president of the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians (MAFP). "As a community member, you have an incentive to support facilities that implement nutritious, local,and sustainable food practices.”

Dr. Hutchinson says that cooking from scratch instead of using canned and pre-processed foods, eliminates salt and fat from food served to patients, visitors and staff. Abundant access to fresh fruits and vegetables helps to provide nutrition and vitamins and contributes to a diet which helps to prevent heart disease, cancers, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. He goes on to say that purchasing local, fresh foods allows for nutritious growing and harvesting. It minimizes distance-transportation use of fossil fuels and supports local economies. Using organically produced foods also minimizes agricultural use of antibiotics and pesticides, each of which has well-documented effects on human health. Finally, waste reduction measures, such as using non-plastic ware and dishes, bulk and fresh purchasing, and donating or composting unconsumed foods, saves costs and energy and promotes environmental health.

Family physicians are encouraging patients to ask leaders at their local hospitals if they are aware of the Healthy Foods in Healthcare movement and invite them to sign the Healthy Foods in Healthcare pledge. Four Minnesota hospitals have already done so. They are Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia and Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. Additional information about the pledge can be found at

Hospitals that sign the pledge are making a commitment to obtain local, nutritious, sustainably produced food for their kitchens and cafeterias. Many indicate already having made improvements at their facilities by removing deep fryers, establishing farmers markets, planting roof-top gardens, composting waste, offering healthy choices in vending machines, eliminating processed foods, reducing products with high fructose corn syrup and increasing fresh fruit and vegetable offerings.

In 2008, the MAFP resolved to publicly champion those Minnesota hospitals that are taking steps to transform their food purchasing and food serving practices. The MAFP Healthy Foods in Healthcare survey was sent to all hospitals in the state in hopes of raising awareness of the movement among hospital leadership, as well as to gauge how many hospitals were already making changes. Survey questions included:


  • Do hospital employees, visitors, and patients in your facility have consistent access to fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, salad bar items, and whole grains and breads?

  • Has your food service department eliminated products and modified recipes containing trans-fats (hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated fats)?

  • Does your food service department donate or compost unconsumed food, rather than disposing of it all as food waste?
  • Does your facility’s cafeteria use food item signage in order to educate consumers about ‘organic-product’ certification, ‘fair-trade’ items, ‘rBGH-free’ products or ‘antibiotic-free’ products?


In almost all cases, respondents said they were already doing at least three to four things that coincided with the Healthy Foods in Healthcare pledge. Several hospitals indicated they were doing six to ten of the items.

Subsequent to the MAFP’s ‘Healthy Foods in Health Care’ initiative last year, the American Medical Association (AMA) also approved a national policy in support of practices and policies within healthcare systems that promote and model healthy and ecologically sustainable food systems. The AMA further resolved to encourage "the development of a healthier food system” through federal agricultural legislation, and public health education about "the importance of healthy and ecologically sustainable food systems”.

"The role of health care providers and facilities in providing education and leadership to help people understand the link between food production practices and individual health is significant and can’t be overstated,” said Dr. Hutchinson. "Our hope is that awareness of what is being done and what still needs to be done can drive continued, healthy evolution in food service policy.”

The Academy wishes to thank the following hospitals that participated in the survey and congratulates those facilities that are demonstrating an interest in promoting healthy choices. They are: Riverwood Healthcare Center, Aitkin; Austin Medical Center, Austin; United Hospital District, Blue Earth; Buffalo Hospital, Buffalo; Mercy Hospital, Coon Rapids; St. Mary’s Innovis Health, Detroit Lakes; St. Luke’s Hospital, Duluth; District One Hospital, Faribault; Lake Region Healthcare Corporation, Fergus Falls; Holy Trinity Hospital, Graceville; Regina Medical Center, Hastings; Sanford Hospital, Luverne; St. John’s Hospital, Maplewood; University of Minnesota Medical Center-Fairview, Minneapolis; Mercy Hospital, Moose Lake; Kanabec County Hospital, Mora; New Ulm Medical Center, New Ulm; St. Joseph’s Area Health Services, Park Rapids; Paynesville Area Health Care System, Paynesville; Redwood Area Hospital, Redwood Falls; LifeCare Medical Center, Roseau; Lakewood Health System, Staples; Tri-County Hospital, Wadena; Waseca Medical Center, Waseca; Wheaton Community Hospital, Wheaton.

The Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians is a professional association of approximately 3,000 family physicians, family medicine residents and medical students organized to assist family physicians in providing quality medical care in Minnesota. The MAFP is the largest medical specialty organization in Minnesota and is a state chapter of the American Academy of Family Physicians, one of the largest national medical organizations in the United States with more than 103,000 members.

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