March 11, 2010

SF Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility News Release
Contact: Lena Brook, MES, 415.601.0504, lena@sfbaypsr.org
March 2010

Hospitals Celebrate National Nutrition Month by Emphasizing Plant-Based Menus
Meat Reduction Intended to Improve Health of People and Climate

(San Francisco, CA) Hospitals across the nation – including five Bay Area facilities – are celebrating National Nutrition Month by changing their food service offerings and staging events to draw more attention to their participation in the Balanced Menus program, which advocates a “Less Meat, Better Meat” approach to hospital food service operations. The Balanced Menus project was designed by SF PSR and now implemented in partnership with Health Care Without Harm.

In many cases, hospitals are showcasing the efforts they have already taken over the past year, such as offering more grains and legumes, more fresh produce and sustainable meat on patient and cafeteria menus.  Others are taking advantage of the month’s focus on nutrition to launch new hospital food improvement initiatives meant to make a positive impact on the health of individuals, communities and the planet.  These include meatless days throughout March, education to patients, staff and visitors about low-meat diets, and discounting Balanced Menus options in cafeterias. (See http://www.noharm.org/lib/downloads/food/Hospitals_Implementing_Balanced_Menus_2010.pdf for local hospital activities).

Americans eat more than twice the global average of beef, poultry, pork and other meat, and about 33 percent more than is recommended by the USDA.  Globally, livestock for meat and dairy production is estimated to contribute anywhere from 18-51 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. Approximately 70% of antibiotics in use today in the US are given to healthy animals to promote growth and compensate for poor animal husbandry practices. Antibiotic overuse promotes bacterial resistance, which costs the US healthcare system more than 20 billion dollars annually.

Balanced Menus is a systematic approach to reduce the amount of meat protein in hospital food and a strategic pathway to serving the healthiest, most sustainably produced meat available,” stated Lena Brook, the Health Care Without Harm National Balanced Menus Coordinator and Senior Program Associate with the San Francisco Bay chapter of Physicans for Social Responsibility.  “This program is just one strategy of many being used by hospitals to model healthy food environments that connect personal nutrition with broader health concerns related to how food is grown, processed and transported to our tables.”

“Intuitively, hospitals should model food policies and practices which promote health,” stated Jamie Harvie, chair of the HCWH Healthy Food in Health Care Initiative.  “Hospitals that serve less meat and better meat promote the health of patients, communities and the planet.

The Hunger and Environmental Nutrition dietetic practice group of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) supports the HCWH Balanced Menus Challenge and has posted information on the program on their website at http://www.hendpg.org/hen.cfm?page=national-nutrition-month. The site includes ideas on how hospitals can showcase their Balanced Menus program during National Nutrition Month.

By taking the Balanced Menus Challenge, participating hospitals commit to making  a permanent 20 percent reduction in meat and poultry purchases within a 12-month period.  Encouraging a reduced and sustainable meat diet is part of a primary prevention agenda to reduce the nation’s skyrocketing rates of diet-related disease, and also contributes substantially to climate mitigation, cleaner air and water, and protecting the effectiveness of antibiotics.  Almost 300 hospitals have taken the HCWH Healthy Food in Healthcare Pledge, which is a commitment to sourcing a broad range of food-related sustainability practices foods, and demonstrating their leadership on sustainable food procurement to the marketplace.  Information on the Balanced Menus Program is available at http://www.noharm.org/us_canada/issues/food/menus.php.

In addition to reducing meat as part of the Balanced Menus approach, hospitals are sponsoring farmers’ markets on hospital grounds, and negotiating with suppliers for more locally produced foods and foods raised without pesticides, non-therapeutic antibiotics, growth hormones or genetic modification.