Study shows Calif. children's hospitals largely fail to provide healthy items

Dec. 1—Only 7% of entrées served in California children’s hospitals can be classified as healthy, according to a study published in Academic Pediatrics.

The research was conducted by UCLA and the Rand Corp., a nonprofit that helps improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis. The authors studied 14 food venues in 12 of California’s major children’s hospitals. The researchers developed a modified version of the Nutrition Environment Measures Scale for Restaurants (NEMS-R) to assess the healthfulness of meals. The system took into account pricing, availability of vegetables, nutrition labeling, combo promotions and healthy beverages.

The average score was 19.1, with 37 being the most healthy. Of the total 359 entrées the hospitals served, only 7% were classified as healthy. Less than one-third of the locations posted nutrition information at the point of sale or had signs to promote healthy eating.

Other findings include:

  • All venues offered low-fat or skim milk and diet soda
  • 81% offered high-calorie, high-sugar items such as cookies or ice cream near the cash register
  • 25% sold whole-wheat bread
  • 50% of the hospitals did not provide any indication that they carried healthy entrées
  • 44% did not have low-calorie salad dressings

The study was conducted in July 2010, so the researchers did say that some hospitals have taken steps to offer healthier items.

“The steps some hospitals are already taking to improve nutrition and reduce junk food are encouraging,” Dr. Lenard Lesser, primary investigator and a physician in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program in the department of family medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “We plan to make this nutritional quality measurement tool available to hosptials around the country to help them assess and improve their food offerings.”