September 23, 2009

September 23, 2009
Contact: Lena Brook, 415-601-0504, lena@sfbaypsr.org

Hospitals Reduce Climate Impact and Promote Health Through “Balanced Menus Challenge”
Hospitals Accept Challenge to Reduce Meat Offerings by 20 Percent in 12 Months

San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility (SFPSR) has announced the “Balanced Menus Challenge,” a voluntary commitment by healthcare institutions to reduce their meat offerings in patient meals and hospital cafeterias by 20 percent in 12 months.  Balanced Menus is a climate change reduction strategy that also protects the effectiveness of antibiotics and promotes good nutrition.  Fourteen hospitals are already participating in the national Balanced Menus Challenge, which was developed and piloted by SFPSR and nationally launched  in partnership with Health Care Without Harm’s Healthy Food in Healthcare Initiative. (see hospital list at end of release).

The USDA recommends 5-6 oz of meat/fish/poultry/beans per day, yet for meat alone, Americans on average eat 8 oz daily.  Hospital food service operations often mirror this trend, offering sizable servings of meat several meals per day. High consumption of conventionally produced meat and processed meat contributes to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, dementia, and some kinds of cancer.  Overconsumption of meat contributes to the overwhelming cost of the US health system (estimated to be $147B as a result of obesity management alone) as well as environmental damage such as climate change, water and air pollution.

Most hospitals buy substantial amounts of meat, typically through large distributors who source from the U.S. commodity beef, pork and poultry markets. U.S. food production relies heavily on fossil fuels, and red meat production is particularly energy intensive as it requires significant inputs of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to grow crops for feed. The food system accounts for over 10 percent of overall energy use in the United States. Globally, livestock for meat and dairy production accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gases, more than all of Earth’s cars, trains, and planes combined.

“While food choice is distinctly personal, the healthcare community should be at the forefront in modeling a healthy food agenda for the nation,” said Lena Brook, Senior Program Associate at the San Francisco bay Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Encouraging a reduced and sustainable meat diet is part of a primary prevention agenda to reduce the nation’s chronic diet-related illnesses, but also contributes substantially to climate mitigation, clean air and water, and protection of the effectiveness of antibiotics.”

Most US meat is produced under a system that relies on the routine feeding of antibiotics to make animals grow faster and consume less feed grain. Arsenic compounds and hormones are given to animals for similar reasons. These additives further contaminate animal manure, which then moves off the crowded facilities, polluting land, air and water. Sustainably raised meat and poultry precludes the use of antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes. Approximately 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the U. S. are given to healthy animals to promote growth and compensate for crowded conditions and poor husbandry practices in conventional animal production.

“As institutions with considerable buying power, hospitals can demonstrate leader­ship to the marketplace by reducing the overall quantity of meat and poultry served and through purchasing of sustainably produced meat,” stated Brook.  “The health care sector is increasingly aware of its responsibility to model healthy behavior for the community.  Reducing their meat purchasing will help reduce the overall cost of medical care in this country, with benefits ranging from savings in actual food service costs to reduction in pollution, but most importantly, to contribute to healthy lifestyles that will improve the health of Americans.”

“It was amazingly simple to make an impact on our carbon footprint by starting with small changes in our cafeteria and working our way up to the more complex patient menu,” said Linda Hansen, CDM, CFPP, Director of Nutrition Services at St. Joseph Health System in Sonoma County, CA. “By implementing Balanced Menus, we are able to remain cost neutral, or even achieve savings for the hospital, not to mention the savings to our healthcare system that result from providing patients, staff and visitors healthier foods.”

“As we debate health care reform in the US, it is important to recognize that eating less conventionally produced meat will reduce drivers of many of the major chronic diseases that threaten the sustainability of our health care system stated Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, of the Science and Environmental Health Network. It is good for people and good for the planet.”

For more information about the “Balanced Menus Challenge,” go to http://noharm.org/us_canada/issues/food/menus.php

Physicians for Social Responsibility is a non-profit advocacy organization that combines the power of community activism with the knowledge and credibility of physicians and other health professionals to promote public policies that support human health.  The San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of PSR (SF PSR), founded in 1979, was the first to be organized in the country and remains one of the largest of the 31 US chapters, with over 2000 members. SF PSR is the preeminent medical and public health voice in our region on a broad range of critical social and environmental health issues. To learn more about SFPSR, visit www.sfbaypsr.org.

HCWH is an international coalition of more than 430 organizations in 52 countries, working to transform the health care industry worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment. HCWH has an ambitious healthy food agenda, which includes buying fresh food locally and/or buying certified organic food; avoiding food raised with growth hormones and antibiotics; supporting local farmers and farming organizations; introducing farmers markets and on-site food box programs; reducing food waste; and establishing an overarching food policy at each health facility.  More than 250 hospitals have signed the HCWH “Healthy Food in Healthcare Pledge.”  Signers pledge to work toward developing sustainable food systems in their facilities.  To learn more about HCWH’s work on food and other issues related to health care www.healthyfoodinhealthcare.org

Hospitals Participating in the Balanced Menus Challenge

UCSF Medical Center, CA

John Muir Health System, CA

Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, CA

San Francisco VA Medical Center, CA

New Milford Hospital, CT

Union Hospital of Cecil County, MD

Carroll Hospital Center, MD

Anne Arundel Medical Center, MD

St. Joseph’s Manor/ Covenant Health System, MA

Anne Arundel Hospital, MD

Truman Medical Centers, MO

Good Shepherd Medical Center, OR

Oregon Health & Science University

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, PA

Cooper University Hospital, NJ