For immediate release

July 30, 2012

Renfrew Victoria Hospital works on regional strategy for healthier cafeteria foods

Renfrew Victoria Hospital has joined forces with hospitals across the Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to promote a healthier eating strategy.

Called Healthy Foods in Hospitals, the strategy was developed by an expert task group from across the Champlain region of health services, and chaired by RVH and St. Francis Memorial Hospital (SFMH) CEO Randy Penney.

The 10-member task group, which included Pam Cranfield, RVH’s Dietitian and Director of Food Services, has worked since February to assess food services in hospital cafeterias in the Champlain region, stretching from Deep River to Ottawa, Hawkesbury and Alexandria.

The group was formed by the Champlain Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Network, which has a mandate to reduce cardiovascular disease among residents in the Champlain region. Since diet plays a role in a wide range of diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and obesity, the group’s goal is to promote healthy eating in hospital cafeterias as a model for residents throughout the region.

“It’s well known that healthy eating is a major component in disease prevention,” says Penney. “Hospitals have a unique opportunity to show how healthy foods can be a part of a daily diet to maintain health in the general population.”

The group conducted an environmental scan to assess the foods served in the region’s hospitals and to look for opportunities to improve food quality. Because of the complicated nature of patient food services, involving diet restrictions and other considerations, the group limited its study to hospital cafeteria and other food services for staff and visitors. It conducted an online survey with 18 of the 19 hospitals in the region, and held consultations with the hospitals’ staff. The group also developed a report with several recommendations for a strategy to address healthy food issues in hospital cafeterias.

Key survey findings were that the predominant cafeteria clients are staff and the majority of staff are satisfied with food offerings, although they want a variety of food choices; reliance on convenience foods is significant with only 11% of cafeterias preparing food from scratch; deep-frying is common with 63% of cafeterias using deep fryers; only 16% of cafeterias display nutritional information; salt is readily available in all but one cafeteria; most cafeterias are running a deficit; and 95% of hospitals rated their food environment as somewhat healthy while 30% rated it as very healthy.

The group also learned that many hospital cafeterias are moving away from outsourced food services to making food from scratch; financial costs are a big consideration in food offerings; and there is interest in pursuing a regional commitment to healthier food choices.

“As the report has demonstrated,” says Penney, “individual hospitals and the entire sector have plenty of work to do. With that having been said, RVH has demonstrated lots of leadership in this area. We have more to do and I look forward to working with our staff and physicians to position both RVH and SFMH as leaders in this area.”

The task group found several examples of healthy eating programs, which are already under way. The Ottawa Hospital and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, for example, include healthy food designation in cafeteria offerings, with nutritional information. Many hospital cafeterias are also offering food choices required by the Eat Smart® workplace award program. As well, Queensway Carleton in Ottawa has partnered with a local producer to provide vegetables for its cafeteria.

Based on its findings, the group considered four scenarios for future action, ranging from doing nothing to implementing a progressive “healthy foods only” approach across all hospitals in the region. The task group chose an approach that will meet hospital cafeterias where they are at and that will provide choice, but ensures that the choice is informed. The approach includes piloting a progressive “healthy foods only” program in a few hospital cafeterias to evaluate its success.

The main components of the proposed strategy are establishing a regional infrastructure for healthy food in hospital cafeterias; providing education, awareness-raising and skill-building; offering supportive physical and social environments; and conducting evaluation and monitoring of the programs.

Specific recommendations include: establishing a leadership table of senior hospital administration to oversee the Healthy Foods strategy; setting up an operations committee to share successes and practical ideas as well as hospital wellness committees within each hospital to support implementation of healthy eating activities; providing standardization opportunities, such as common menus and common service providers, to leverage partnerships and costs in the region; presenting the recommendations to the LHIN; adopting the Hospital Check program throughout the region’s hospitals to identify healthy foods and show calories, sodium, saturated fat, and total fat in menu offerings; creating and implementing a common, regional marketing campaign to promote healthy eating; establishing a business case for healthy eating, including the benefits to employees, the return on investment for the employer and the opportunity to role model health behaviours; increasing the availability of healthier foods and beverages over the long term; providing pilot locations for healthy foods only services; creating and implementing complementary placement, promotion and pricing strategies to encourage the purchase of healthier foods; and, finally, ensuring that a regional evaluation and accountability mechanism is in place to assess progress and outcomes of implementation activities.

RVH’s Director of Food Services Pam Cranfield said she looks forward to introducing the report’s recommendations at RVH. “The task group was a very worthwhile exercise,” Cranfield says. “Now RVH has an excellent opportunity to show leadership in our community. Adopting a Healthy Foods in Hospitals approach will benefit not only our own hospital community, but will provide an excellent example for the community at large.”

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For more information, please contact Randy Penney,
RVH President and CEO
613-432-4851, ext. 260.

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