- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Hospital cafeterias are catching the health wave that’s sweeping the country and starting to provide patient and nonpatients with nutritional data.

Although hospitals are places that promote a healthy lifestyle, rarely is the amount of fat, calories and carbohydrates in food made known.

That’s changing, according to a new survey conducted by the National Society for Healthcare Foodservice Management, an organization representing more than 2,000 food service professionals at health care facilities.

“Point-of-sale nutritional information for the muffin a customer is about to buy in a hospital is something that you don’t typically see in hospitals,” said Linda Lafferty, president of the society. “But the public is hungry for more health information, so that is changing.”

Suburban Hospital in Bethesda two months ago began presenting nutritional information on its “at your request,” room service menu for patients.

And Sibley Memorial Hospital in Northwest six months ago switched to cooking oil without trans fat for all of its foods.

George Washington University Hospital in Northwest has been providing nutritional information to patients for years; its food options are getting healthier as a result of public opinion, said Helen Cipparone, food and nutrition director at GW hospital.

“Over the last year I’ve noticed a big change in customers’ concern over what’s in the food,” she said. “There is a growing number of complaints when we’re not offering healthy foods.”

In the next six months GW hospital will expand the self-service salad bar to include more fruits and vegetables as well as provide a variety of nuts to include healthy fatty acids such as Omega 3.

“Hospitals should set the example for healthy living,” said Ms. Cipparone. “When we have to include unhealthy foods because that’s what patients want. We also want to provide a variety of healthy options.”

Retail food sales, or food that is sold to hospital staff or nonpatients, make up more than 60 percent of food service revenue for a hospital or food service contractor, Ms. Lafferty said.

But hospital cafeterias are not pillars of healthy eating just yet. The need to keep sales at acceptable levels still supersedes the nutritional trend.

“Our grill is somewhat still unhealthy,” said Meg Martin, clinical nutritionist at Inova Alexandria Hospital, which contracts its food service from the Gaithersburg company Sodexho. “There is still a demand for the double bacon cheeseburger.”

The health food services management survey shows that patients also are asking for nutrition facts with their meals, but that doesn’t always translate into a healthy meal.

“When a patient is sick, getting calories to that person through ice cream may be the most important thing, not eating carrots,” said Robin Henke, a clinical dietitian at Suburban Hospital.

The Food and Drug Administration required food manufacturers to put nutrition information on products in 1990.

Since 2003, 15 states including the District have proposed legislation to require menu labeling at restaurants, mostly for trans fat.

The nationwide hospital food survey received about a 15 percent response rate, or just over a 100 respondents, from health care facilities.

“While this response rate is less than desired and not statistically powerful from a rigorous research perspective, the feedback does provide keen insight into trends in the health care facilities represented by the [health food services management] directors,” Ms. Lafferty said.

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