Mission: Nutrition Brings Healthier Food and Drink Options to Seattle Children’s

“Food is your medicine – hence let your medicine be your food”  – Hippocrates, circa 400 BC

Hospitals are places where healing and wellness are promoted, yet the food and drink that are served at them may not always be the healthiest options for patients, their families and staff.  Seattle Children’s is tackling this challenge head on.

Today, Children’s announced the launch of Mission: Nutrition – a new initiative aimed at improving the nutritional quality of the food and drinks served at all Children’s properties. Improving our nutritional offerings will happen in several phases over time. Here’s a look at phase one improvements, some of which are already underway:

  • Deep-fat fried foods are no longer offered in the hospital’s cafeteria. Instead, french fries, onion rings, fish fillets, egg rolls, empanadas and other traditionally deep-fat-fried foods are now baked.
  • Beginning this month, all sugar-sweetened beverages in cafeterias, vending machines and gift shops will be removed – one of the more sweeping changes of the initiative.
  • Wild salmon with tomato pesto, cod fillet and country baked steak have been added to the cafeteria’s rotating menu as healthy alternatives.

In addition to changing what we offer, we will also incorporate nutrition education in future phases (like signs to help people make good choices) in areas where food and drinks are available.

Children’s is the first hospital in Washington state to make these specific changes to drink offerings.  There are other hospitals in our state that do not offer deep-fried foods on their menus.

“With the rate of childhood obesity more than tripling in the past 30 years, Children’s has a responsibility to model the policies, environments and behaviors that promote the health of the children and families that are in our care,” said Lenna Liu, MD, a Children’s obesity expert and pediatrician who was part of the team that developed Mission: Nutrition.

In 2007, Children’s partnered with Health Care Without Harm and signed the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, which provides steps to improve the health of our patients and community by eating healthy and fighting obesity. Since then, Children’s has: begun using hormone free milk, and only trans-fat free canola and olive oils in cooking; removed deep-fat-fried foods from patient menus; replaced white bread and tortillas with wheat on patient menus; removed soda from patient menus (if needed, they can still order an 8-ounce can).

The Survey Says…

Children’s expects the changes to be well-received. Patients, families, staff and visitors tell us they want healthy food and drink options at Children’s. In a survey of over 300 current and prospective patient families:

  • 87% think Children’s should take steps to make its menu more healthy
  • 77% think hospital cafeterias should offer healthier options than non-hospital cafeterias
  • 64% said they are more likely to visit our cafeterias after the first phase of Mission: Nutrition changes take place

Mission: Nutrition supports our mission to prevent, treat and eliminate pediatric disease like obesity,” says, Lisa Brandenburg, president of Seattle Children’s Hospital. “The changes we’re making reflect the feedback we’ve received from patients, their families and our staff. We want to set a good example for them, the community, and each other. We hope everyone will join together to set an example for eating healthy.”

A team of multidisciplinary staff members were enlisted to develop the program and to ensure cooperation throughout the organization. The strategy for the initiative was also informed by obesity-related studies conducted at Seattle Children’s Research Institute including those looking at the impact of access to healthy and unhealthy foods. In addition, Public Health – Seattle & King County’s Healthy Vending Guidelines informed our beverage selection changes.

Soda Consumption: The Statistics

Last week, Public Health – Seattle & King County released a report on soda consumption in King County. Their data shows that similar to rates seen nationally, 31% of King County high school students – or 26,000 youth – report drinking at least one regular (non-diet) soda daily. 8,000 of these students are drinking two or more sodas daily.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says sugar-sweetened drinks like soda and fruit drinks are the number one source of added sugars in a child’s daily diet. Each 12-ounce serving of regular soda has 39 or more grams of sugar and often more than 140 calories.

For a child who drinks one can of soda a day for a year – a total of 34 gallons – that’s about 31 pounds of sugar and 51,000 extra calories with no added nutritional value.

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