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Hospital Cafeteria Food Undermines Wellness Movement

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, December 5, 2011

A study this month in the journal Academic Pediatrics provides a pithy example of a persistent disconnect for the wellness movement in the healthcare workplace.

The study by researchers at the UCLA School of Medicine and the RAND Corp. examined the menus at 14 children's hospitals in California and found 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," Lenard Lesser, MD, the primary investigator on the study, said in a media release.  "Unfortunately, the food in many hospitals is no better—and in some cases worse—than what you would find in a fast food restaurant."

While the study concentrates on children's hospitals in California, it is not unreasonable to suggest that these poor nutritional standards could be found in many other hospitals across the nation. If so, the study illustrates that while many hospitals talk the talk on improving nutrition, staff, patients, and visitors at hospital cafeterias still chew the fat.

Most—if not all—hospitals ban tobacco use, so they probably don't sell cigarettes in the gift shop. Why then should the standards be different for unhealthy food? Health issues related to overweight and obesity are key healthcare cost drivers. We all know that. So why promote it?  

Simply stated, if your workplace wellness initiative features a weight loss program—or especially if you're contemplating heftier health insurance premiums for heftier employees—you shouldn't be selling cheese fries and sugary drinks in the lunchroom. 

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