How one of the largest food purchasing industries is making healthy choices easy

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Strawberry-mint infused water offered as a soda alternative at Highline Medical Center.

Hospitals across King County are making the healthy choice the easy choice for their staff, visitors, outpatients, and communities in an often overlooked place—their cafeterias. Through the Community Transformation Grant (CTG), MultiCare Auburn Medical Center, Highline Medical Center, Harborview Medical Center, and Valley Medical Center committed to serving healthier food and creating food environments in their cafeterias that encourage healthy eating.

The hospitals took on this work under the leadership of Health Care Without Harm’s (HCWH) Healthy Food in Health Care (HFHC) national initiative. The idea behind the initiative is simple, but unique. Hospitals have immense purchasing power and are seen as health experts—so, by purchasing and promoting foods in their cafeterias that are “produced, processed, and transported in ways that are protective of public and environmental health,” hospitals not only have an impact on their own food environments, but on the whole food system.

To achieve the goals of the initiative, the hospitals did the following:

Increased access to healthy food and beverages. The first step to creating a healthier food environment is making sure that cafeteria patrons have the option of eating healthy.

  • Three hospitals essentially doubled the amount of fruits and vegetables they purchased and served.
  • All four hospitals created and promoted a new healthy meal option at each meal time.
  • One hospital hosts a biweekly farm stand onsite with Clean Greens Market and created produce vouchers for outpatients receiving nutritional counseling.

Improved the food retail environment. Providing healthy food is one part of the equation—making it the easy choice is another part.

  • Soda machines were replaced with tea machines, hydration stations were built to promote drinking water, and more unsweetened specialty drinks are now offered.
  • Healthier on-the-go foods like salads, hummus, hard-boiled eggs, and fruit cups are offered as snacks and healthier options replaced donuts on the breakfast bars.
  • Several hospitals purchased attractive baskets and stands to display fresh fruit and placed fruit by their cash registers.
  • Hospitals prioritized healthy beverages by placing them at eye-level in displays and putting them by cafeteria entrances.

Engaged consumers to encourage healthy choices. Hospitals also began engaging consumers in a variety of ways to make them aware of the healthier food options. They created logos to indicate which foods were the healthy options. They provided information at cash registers, created attractive displays to show the daily healthy meals, promoted healthy food through food demonstrations, and brought attention their water stations with signs.

MultiCare Auburn Medical Center, Harborview Medical Center, Highline Medical Center, and Valley Medical Center have all shown that a little investment can go a long way to help their staff, patients, visitors, and communities to be healthier.

This blog post is part of a series highlighting successful initiatives as part of the Community Transformation Grant (CTG). In September 2012, partners Seattle Children’s Hospital, Public Health – Seattle & King County, and the Healthy King County Coalition (HKCC) received a grant to work with local governments, schools, hospitals, low-income housing groups, and community organizations to improve the health of communities in South Seattle and South King County. Find out more here: www.kingcounty.gov/health/ctg.