The writer of twice-monthly health columns is a practicing cardiologist, clinical professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine and founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity in Bingham Farms. He's an author who has appeared on "Dr. Oz" and "The Doctors Show."
By Joel Kahn
It shouldn't be surprising that what you eat matters greatly in terms of your health. It may matter the most when you are healing from an illness.
The ability of vitamin-rich and nutrient-rich fresh foods, abundant in colors and plant fiber, to promote recovery from medical issues, is proven. Many studies confirm that processed meats and other foods with excess saturated fats, salt and sugar, along with sugar-sweetened beverages, are all harmful to our health.
Therefore, hospital patients, visitors and employees should anticipate that the food served would be examples of healing and nutritious choices.
The American College of Cardiology, of which I am a member and honorary fellow, notes that “hospitalization can be a teachable moment for patients who are ready to embrace nutrition as part of the healing process. Healthful foods are also important for staff and visitors and reinforce the culture of health recognized as vital in the workplace today." Similarly, the American Medical Association calls for hospitals to oiffer plant-based options and eliminate processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Disconnect in Detroit
Unfortunately, Detroit area hospitals and medical facilities have not adopted these guidelines fully. It is common to see patients, visitors and health care workers in 2021 selecting unhealthful food in hospitals.
While some progress has been made, near many hospital entrances is a vending machine with Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Fried foods, bacon, hot dogs, ice cream and French fries (recently confirmed to be associated with a shortened lifespan) all are served and remain popular choices.
Some local hospitals still have fast-food franchises in the lobby, which have long lines at mealtime. Does it not seem odd that a patient can order a Baconator Cheeseburger and Baconator Fries (1,500 calories combined).
In a 2013 article on the ethics of hospital food, the authors stated: “Promoting health and preventing disease in an era of chronic disease is part of a hospital’s mission, and that mission can only be achieved through behavior change. … Just as doctors…are responsible for teaching individual patients about good eating practices, so are the hospital systems for which they work responsible for promoting dietary change in broader communities.”
The ethical imperative to offer only healthy options, by banning sugar-sweetened beverages, fried foods, and processed meats at a minimum, remains pressing and unmet.
The medical system is under pressure from the pandemic, dropping reimbursement and greater regulation to improve quality and avoid unnecessary procedures and treatments. Healthy hospital foods may not be high on the agenda of administrators for 2021 priorities.
Patients and hospital employees are often best-served by bringing in their own foods of high quality and freshness. Nonetheless, in a bloated medical environment of rising costs and huge burdens of chronic disease management, brought on partly by suboptimal food and lifestyle choices, expecting hospitals to provide those “teachable moments” continues to be an important goal.