About Healthy Food Hospitals, for Paige Hathaway

MHA's Paige Hathaway speaks about the Healthy Food Hospitals campaign.

In May, the Michigan Health & Hospital Association (MHA) launched the Healthy Food Hospitals campaign as a voluntary commitment made by hospitals to improve the healthfulness of the foods they serve. FSD talked with Paige Hathaway, member relations representative, about the program and what it hopes to achieve.

Q. What is the Healthy Food Hospitals program?

It is a program that focuses on community health. Our board of trustees put this idea in the hands’ of one of our committees where they wanted a program about healthy eating and weight management and wanted hospitals to lead by example and show a lifestyle-based design of how to manage your weight and eat healthy. There are four stars.

Q. What are the four stars?

The first star focuses more on the pediatric side of things due to the childhood obesity rate. It focuses on pediatric menus and we ask that the pediatric menu default selection meet AHA (American Heart Association) guidelines.

Star two applied to both children and adults. For the piece that focuses on the children, we are asking if juice is served, it needs to be 100% juice, but we would like the main choice to be milk that is low fat or skim. We do understand there are things like clear liquid diets where children have to be served juice, which is why we put that in there. We ask that this healthy beverage transition also be applied to adults when it can be.

Star three is labeling nutritional content in the cafeteria. We got the idea from a few places, like California and the city of New York but also the Affordable Care Act is now requiring restaurant chains with 20 or more stores to provide information to the public. We want our hospitals to do the same. We want people to see at the hospitals what is modeled as a healthy plate and we want people to know what they are eating. The labeling has the most flexibility in it. There are some hospitals that are labeling everything, but we want the healthy items to be labeled.

We are giving hospitals until 2013 to complete those first three stars. Star four is probably the one that is going to take the most time. We are asking that hospitals purchase 20% of their products that are grown, produced or processed in Michigan by 2020. We are the second most agriculturally diverse state and yet 59% of our population doesn’t have access to adequate, healthy food. We are trying to bridge that gap.

Q. Why was the program created?

MHA wanted to lead by example. The way food is designed today it is very preservative laden, full of refined sugars and calorie dense rather than focusing on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fiber, which are important to health. Michigan needed a healthy food environment so why not ask our hospitals to be the model? We are now moving away from the idea of hospitals only being the place where people go to get well. People now look to hospitals as a wellness center.

The nutrition managers were very supportive. Michigan is the 10th most overweight state, so any information on health and weight management is very highly accepted. Back in 2010 we asked hospitals to become trans fat-free in their patient facilities. Removing trans fat was piece one of focusing on foods and this is taking it one step further.

Q. What are the goals of the program?

We are hoping for 100% of compliance from our hospitals. We currently have 76 hospitals that are participating. We have an evaluation form on our website where hospitals can prove that they have completed a star. We want to be able to use this not only as a way to prove the hospitals have done this but also to use as an example.

Q. What’s next for the program?

A lot of people have asked for help starting farmers’ markets or CSAs at their locations so we are trying to help with that. Some of our hospitals that already have farmers’ markets are working to accept Bridge Cards (Electronic Benefits Transfer cards). We hosted training sessions in March. We trained them on each star. We are offering peer-to-peer learning sessions at member hospitals. We have had two already and plan on doing two more. Each session discusses different topics.

In May, the Michigan Health & Hospital Association (MHA) launched the Healthy Food Hospitals campaign as a voluntary commitment made by hospitals to improve the healthfulness of the foods they serve. FSD talked with Paige Hathaway, member relations representative, about the program and what it hopes to achieve.