Hospitals asked to practice what they preachA coalition of doctors, nurses and other interested parties is calling on Minnesota’s hospitals to eliminate sugary beverages, serve locally produced food and promote breast-feeding.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
A coalition of doctors, nurses and other interested parties is calling on Minnesota’s hospitals to eliminate sugary beverages, serve locally produced food and promote breast-feeding.
“What we’re finding is most clinicians are spending their time counseling patients on how to reduce weight,” said Jamie Harvie, executive director of the Duluth-based Institute for a Sustainable Future and one of the organizers of the effort. “Then they go out in the halls and see the vending machines and the candy machines.”
The initiative, called The Commons Health Hospital Challenge, is endorsed by the Minnesota chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Department and the Lake Superior Medical Society. Forty individuals are listed on the steering committee, including many medical doctors.
It asks Minnesota hospitals to do three things:
Minnesota hospitals are lagging in all three areas, Harvie said. He cited various hospitals across the nation that have reached some or all of the guidelines. For example, he said, the Cleveland Clinics eliminated the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages in all of its facilities two years ago. Almost 50 percent of the food served at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Vermont is produced locally.
“Hospitals in Minnesota are behind the leaders in the country,” Harvie said. “As a generalization, they are far behind. No one’s done any sugar-sweetened elimination.”
But local hospitals are making strides in at least one of the three areas.
Just last week, St. Luke’s hospital became the first in the state to make the 20-percent-by-2020 commitment toward locally grown food, Harvie said.
It will be no problem, said Mark Branovan, director of hospitality for St. Luke’s.
“If we’re not doing 20 percent right now, we’ve got to be pretty close,” he said.
Essentia Health expects to follow suit soon, said John Vidmar, director of nutrition services.
“It is a reasonable goal,” Vidmar said. “I’ve done some research for hospitals in New Hampshire and Vermont that are at upwards of 40 percent.”
Hospitals such as Fletcher Allen Health Care are a good model for Duluth, Harvie said, because they have “the same climate, the same lousy soil as us.”
Both St. Luke’s and Essentia are part of the Western Lake Superior Food Hub, a project to link area food providers with major consumers. Essentia, for example, is incorporating carrots purchased in Wrenshall in its menus; St. Luke’s purchases bison from a farm in Esko. They are certainly major consumers: St. Luke’s food budget is $1.2 million per year, Branovan said.
The local hospitals aren’t as far along when it comes to beverages. Essentia already has withdrawn vending machines from its pediatric floor, Vidmar said, but the health system hasn’t made a commitment to a next step.
“We are assessing the prospect of reducing or eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages,” he said. “We are doing some research right now.”
St. Luke’s also is considering the matter, Branovan said. “We are looking into the advisability of how we could make this happen.”
Harvie advocates a total ban on sales. He pointed out that 23 percent of Minnesotans are obese or overweight (updated figures are due out today). Sugar-sweetened beverages, he said, “represent the most egregious component to our diet.”
Hospitals can’t solve the problem singlehandedly, Harvie said, but they can help lead the way. “We want to encourage hospitals not to be complicit in distributing poor-nutritional-quality beverages.”
Information wasn’t available from either St. Luke’s or Essentia on breast-feeding policies, but Harvie said he knows of only two Minnesota hospitals that have made the “baby-friendly” commitment: the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital and the Mayo Clinic in Austin. A third, Riverwood Healthcare Center in Aitkin, has signed a letter of intent.
Many hospitals encourage breast-feeding but offer mixed messages, Harvie said.
“It’s not healthy to educate on breast-feeding and then give away formula,” he said.
Numerous studies show breast-feeding has health benefits for both the child and the mother, Harvie said. The American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed the breast-feeding initiative in 2009.