Positive change is coming to the retail food environment at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (the Hospital).
After nearly two years of research, development, and engagement with staff, patients and community members, a new initiative called ‘Eating Healthy Together’ was unveiled today that is designed to provide a supportive, informative, and healthy food environment for consumers at the Hospital.
The Hospital’s Eating Healthy Together initiative will remove ultra-processed foods and beverages in the coming months and increase the number of nutritious items sold onsite at retail food outlets.
Unhealthy eating contributes to chronic disease and mortality. “In Northwestern Ontario, our rates for chronic diseases, including diabetes, obesity and heart disease, are higher than the rest of the province,” explained Dr. Stewart Kennedy, Executive Vice-President of Medical, Academics and Regional Programs at the Hospital. “We need to improve our health behaviours and environments to prevent these illnesses, which includes creating and sustaining a healthy and supportive food environment. Why should a health care facility sell the very foods that contribute to the acute and chronic conditions we treat?”
A healthy food environment supports people to make good eating choices. A food environment refers to the foods available and how they are obtained. The National Collaborating Centre for Environment Health states that food environments can affect people’s food purchasing and eating choices, the quality of their diets, and diet-related health outcomes. Canada’s new Food Guide also makes reference to the positive relationship between more healthy food options in food service outlets and better quality diet.
“Although high in our region, many chronic diseases can be controlled and prevented,” said Dr. Kennedy. “Up to 80% of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke can be prevented by eating healthy diets, as well as being physically active. We need to be a leader in the field of healthy eating for our Northwest region, while positively influencing the health behaviours of staff, patients, and visitors to our Hospital.”
Many hospitals and health care organizations have implemented similar healthy eating initiatives and others are in the process. They are all driven by the philosophy that the foods sold by health care facilities should be healthy. Some examples include the Champlain LHIN’s Healthy Foods in Hospital Program, Capital Health’s Healthy Eating Strategy in Nova Scotia and Alberta Health Services’ Healthy Eating Environment Policy. Guidance from outside organizations, evidence-based research, and community input were all used to steer the direction of Eating Healthy Together.
Starting in 2016, staff and community members were asked to provide input into the Eating Healthy Together concept. The results showed that almost all (93%) respondents strongly agreed or agreed that the Hospital should be a role model and leader in healthy eating; over half (52%) of respondents said if healthier options were available at the Hospital they would buy food and beverages more often; and almost two thirds (62%) of respondents said all or almost all of the food and beverage options sold at the Hospital retail outlets should be healthy.
Debora Prokopich Buzzi provided valuable input as a Patient Family Advisor on the Eating Healthy Together Steering Committee. She emphasized the importance of easily accessible retail food and beverages for families and visitors to the Hospital, especially healthy offerings. “The Eating Healthy Together initiative is an example of how this Hospital not only provides care to us, but also cares about us,” said Prokopich Buzzi. “This shows the community that our Hospital wants to take the extra step to help decrease chronic disease rates by inspiring us to make healthier food choices, by providing an environment to support this.”
There will be a strong focus on evaluation, education and sustainability as the Eating Healthy Together initiative is implemented in the coming months.
For more information on Eating Healthy Together, including viewing the Hospital’s policy, Nutrition Standards, or to speak to a member of the steering committee, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.tbrhsc.net/EHT