Improving Physician Nutrition: Hospital Cafeteria Food or Brown Bagging It?

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As physicians, we spend a lot of time talking with our patients about making healthy food choices, but some of us fail to listen to our own advice.
As physicians, we spend a lot of time talking with our patients about making healthy food choices, but some of us fail to listen to our own advice.

Maintaining a healthy life balance can be difficult for physicians, especially as our days are filled with seeing patients, studying for certification exams, staying up to date on new medical advancements, and trying to maintain a family and social life. As a result of numerous priorities and little discretionary time, our nutrition often gets put on the back burner – whether by depending entirely on the hospital's cafeteria food, searching the hospital for available food, or just skipping meals altogether.

As physicians, we spend a lot of time talking with our patients about making healthy food choices, but some of us fail to listen to our own advice. It isn't always our fault, though; in many hospitals, the food being served goes against what we recommend to our patients as part of a healthy lifestyle. In fact, recent news articles have focused on the pervasiveness of junk food being served to both staff and patients.1-3

Strides have been made to address this issue. The New York City Department of Health and Human Hygiene developed “The Healthy Hospital Food Initiative,” an intervention designed to increase the accessibility of healthy foods and beverages in New York City hospitals. This program recruited 16 public and 24 private hospitals in a collective effort to improve the nutritional value and overall healthfulness of food served. The program was successful in getting most New York City hospitals to adopt rigorous nutritional standards by either introducing a healthy value meal, removing unhealthy items from the entrances and checkout lines of the cafeteria, increasing whole grains to at least half of all grains served, and reducing the amount of calories from pastries and desserts.4

More recently, during the 2017 American Medical Association (AMA) Annual Meeting, the House of Delegates stated that actions will be taken to combat the rise in popularity of sugar-sweetened beverages and to increase availability of more nutritious foods in hospitals, food banks, and federal food-assistance programs. The AMA recommends that physicians encourage their patients to replace these beverages with healthier alternatives, work with the community by promoting healthier beverage options, and understand the importance of person-first language when treating patients with obesity.5

Although measures have been taken by various channels to increase the nutritional value of food served in hospital cafeterias, physicians should consider how such choices affect them personally. The following are simple suggestions that can contribute to a healthy diet. 

●     Focus on the healthier options that cafeterias do offer, such as aiming for the salad bar, opting for meal options with more vegetables and lean protein, and limiting options heavy in carbohydrates;

●     Bring your own lunch, and consider meal prepping to save time; and

●     Have plenty of healthy snacks available, such as granola bars, trail mix, and fruits

If we truly aim to be role models for our patients in leading healthy lives, we should act the part, as well.

References

  1. Ravella S. When the hospital serves McDonaldsThe Atlantic. February 9, 2016.  Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/02/unhealthy-hospital-food/461898/. Accessed August 29, 2017.
  2. Wanjek C. Doctors want sugar and “cancer-causing” foods out of hospitals. Fox News Health. June 26, 2017.  Available at: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2017/06/26/doctors-want-sugar-and-cancer-causing-foods-out-hospitals.html. Accessed August 29, 2017.
  3. Kahn J. Unhealthy hospital food must stop. Huffington Post. Updated April 1, 2015. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joel-kahn-md/toxic-hospital-food-must-_b_6567730.html. Accessed August 29, 2017.
  4. Moran A, Krepp EM, Johnson Curtis C, Lederer A. An intervention to increase availability of healthy foods and beverages in New York City hospitals: The Healthy Hospital Food Initiative, 2010–2014. Prev Chronic Dis. 2016;13:150541.
  5. Berg S. AMA backs comprehensive approach targeting sugary drinks. AMA Wire. Updated June 14, 2017. Available at: https://wire.ama-assn.org/ama-news/ama-backs-comprehensive-approach-targeting-sugary-drinks. Accessed August 28, 2017.

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