A survey of 16 children's hospital cafeterias in California revealed that of the nearly 400 entree/sandwich selections served, only seven percent were deemed "healthy" by the study's criteria. The study, published in the journal Academic Pediatrics, was conducted by researchers at UCLA and the RAND Corp. Scoring highest was the cafeteria at UC Davis Children's Hospital.
"As health professionals, we understand the connection between healthy eating and good health, and our hospitals should be role models in this regard," said Dr. Lenard Lesser, the primary investigator on the study and a physician in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program in the department of family medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Unfortunately, the food in many hospitals is no better—and in some cases worse—than what you would find in a fast food restaurant."
The study authors developed a modified version of the Nutrition Environment Measures Study for restaurants (NEMS-R) as an assessment tool for rating the food offerings in hospital cafeterias. This measurement system takes into account pricing, the availability of vegetables, nutrition labeling, combination promotions and healthy beverages.
Overall, the average score for the 16 hospital food venues was 19.1 — on a scale of 0 (least healthy) to 37 (most healthy). Of the total 384 entrees and sandwiches the hospitals served, only seven percent were classified as healthy according to the NEMS-R criteria. And while nearly all the hospitals offered healthy alternatives such as fruit, less than one-third had nutritional information at the point of sale or signs to promote healthy eating.
Other key findings included...
• All 16 food venues offered low-fat or skim milk and diet soda
• 81 percent offered high-calorie, high-sugar items such as cookies and ice cream near the cash register
• 25 percent sold whole wheat bread
• Half the hospitals did not provide any indication that they carried healthy entrees.
• 44 percent did not have low-calorie salad dressings.
Researchers said hospitals can improve the health of their food offerings by providing more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and smaller portions; shrinking the amount of low-nutrient choices; utilizing low-cost options, such as signage, to promote healthy eating; and keeping unhealthy "impulse" items away from the checkout stand.