September 13, 2012

Why health care needs to lead on healthy food

This recent LA Times article about doctors and healthy eating really hit home for me. Seems that many doctors are on a "see food" diet just like everyone else. We see food and we eat it. From my own personal experience, it's much easier to eat a healthy diet when there is good food at hand.

For most of us, it’s easier to make choices about what we eat at home than it is at work. The article talks about the need to have better choices for doctors at their hospitals.

Why should doctors and others in health care serve as role models in the area of healthy eating? This question is central to the work I do at Kaiser Permanente. We started on this journey here almost 10 years ago when we launched one of the first hospital based farmers markets in the country. There are now 52 markets or farm stands at our facilities around the country for the benefit of all --- not just the doctors.

We are also offering almost 200 tons of sustainably grown fruits and vegetables to patients in our hospitals in Northern and Southern California each year.

The food at hospital conferences has changed as well. It's rare to see pizza now, and when there is pizza, there is no grease coming through the cardboard. We haven't had a bucket of greasy chicken for decades. These days we see a red quinoa salad or chick peas with kale next to a veggie wrap.

It’s not that way all the time though. Lurking behind the plastic case in the hospital cafeteria you can probably still find a 500-empty-calorie pastry. At least we can tell how many calories we are wasting.

Seventy percent of the $12 billion per year spent on food in health care is spent on "retail" operations --- in cafeterias, coffee carts, gift shops, and vending machines.

We at KP are making good progress, but there is still more to be done. I applaud organizations like Health Care Without Harm that are working on this issue, as well as the doctors and researchers at Stanford and elsewhere who are raising these important questions and offering suggestions on how health care can take the lead in creating healthier food environments.