Healthy Food = Healthy Bodies: A Vision for Healthy Food Access and Equity in Healthcare Settings

During the past few months, we’ve shared findings collected from the Minnesota Food Charter public input process, with a focus on healthy communities and the importance of good nutrition in learning environments like schools. This month, we look at healthcare and how one of Minnesota’s largest industries can also be one of the most effective change-makers when it comes to ensuring healthy, affordable and safe food access is available for people who purchase and consume food in these settings.

Why healthcare?

Economic Benefit: Eating nourishing food is an essential component of living a healthy lifestyle, but it’s even more crucial for patients who are recovering from illness or surgical procedures. Healthy eating means a healthier body, leading to less hospital and clinic visits—and healthy food can help existing patients get well more quickly and stay healthy longer—both of which ultimately help lower the overall costs of healthcare for our state, and taxpayers.

Reach: Hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, institutional hospice and psychiatric care, and elder care facilities provide food to patients and employees in cafeterias, restaurants, vending machines, and at special events, feeding thousands of people every day. Providing education and serving healthy, food raised on nearby farms and prepared on site for this many people will have a uniquely powerful impact.

Purchasing Power and Network: The healthcare sector’s close relationship with state and local governments also makes these facilities an ideal place to implement ideas about food sourcing and nutrition that are important to Minnesotans. And, healthcare institutions have large purchasing power, which can be used to support thriving economies as well as the physical health of those they serve and employees.

What did we hear?

Knowledgeable stakeholders from the healthcare community across Minnesota contributed many suggestions and observations about food access and affordability in healthcare settings. From care providers of tribal elders to hospital administrators and dietitians at care facilities, participants affirmed the importance of healthy food in healthcare facilities and stressed the unique role that these facilities play in people’s lives.

“If they choose, hospitals can play an important role in helping ensure the long term health of Minnesotans,” said Jamie Harvie, Executive Director of Institute for a Sustainable Future. “Their policies and purchasing power allows them to influence food choices available to their patients and staff and other businesses in their community, while their moral authority provides an opportunity to model and educate patients, staff and visitors on how food production and food access are intimately connected to the future health of all Minnesota.”

Participants acknowledged the steps that had been taken to increase healthy food access and to partner with community organizations, such as the onsite food shelf at Hennepin County Medical Center, which could serve as a model for other facilities. But there was also collective agreement that more work needs to be done, and excitement about the opportunity to engage with leadership to improve sourcing, supplies, and service of healthy foods so that patients, employees, and community members have better options to feed themselves and their families.

In order to address food access and support in a long-term and proactive way, there are many issues the Food Charter hopes to answer:

  • How do we broaden the view of the role healthcare facilities play, moving from an approach of ‘treating disease’ to ‘promoting health’?
  • How can we approach the issue of healthcare organizations deriving income from the sale of unhealthy foods like sugar-sweetened beverages?
  • What are the benefits of prioritizing healthy food in healthcare settings and what sort of effects could we see in patient health and overall healthcare costs?
  • How can healthcare facilities be a model for healthy workplace eating and use their unique status to centralize access to community and statewide food programs?
  • How might we think about a leadership development program for healthcare facility decision-makers, to increase knowledge and interest in improving food environments in their facilities?

Third Thursday Webinar: For Our Healthy Future: Healthy Food Access in Healthcare Settings

The Minnesota Food Charter webinar this month, For Our Healthy Future: Healthy Food Access in Healthcare Settings, will address these questions by sharing findings from Food Charter Events held across the state, as well as listening sessions and interviews with people who work in healthcare settings. We’ll provide a comprehensive look at the barriers that inhibit healthy food access, as well as solutions and opportunities creating healthy food environments in healthcare settings, from supply to sourcing to serving.

This 45-minute webinar will share specific examples, like Farm to Cafeteria programs offering Minnesota-grown products and discuss the significant benefits that nourishing food can have on the health of patients and healthcare’s bottom line. As Minnesotans, we have a vested interest in these concerns. Supplying, sourcing, and serving healthy food in these facilities improve our health and strengthen our economy through reduced healthcare costs.

For Our Healthy Future: Healthy Food Access in Healthcare Settings takes place at 11 a.m. on Thursday, April 17th. Be sure to mark your calendar, and the event password “Apr172014!