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Children's hospitals need to promote healthy eating, UCLA study says

In case you missed it, the San Francisco Chronicle had an interesting story over the weekend about the quality of food served at California's 14 children's hospitals. A new study from UCLA suggests that, relative to its competitors, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital does a reasonably good job of providing healthy choices. Packard Children's tied with UC San Francisco for second place in the study's scoring scheme.

But the study still found room for improvement, as the Chronicle story explains:

Scores were based on a variety of factors designed to rate the overall nutritional atmosphere of an eating establishment. Hospital cafeterias could gain points for offering low-fat milk, non-fried vegetables and baked potato chips, as well as signs encouraging healthy eating and pointing out particularly nutritious entrees.

But they could lose points for not promoting healthy foods, even if those foods were on the menu. For example, only a quarter of the hospitals got points for offering sandwiches made with whole wheat bread - presumably, all or most of the hospitals offer the healthy bread, but few of them make a point of telling that to customers.

Packard Children's childhood obesity expert Thomas Robinson, MD, agrees that hospitals need do more to promote healthy eating:

"The belief ... that if you just provide healthy foods, that will change everyone's behaviors, that is naive," Robinson said.

They usually need a little nudge in the healthier direction, he said. "We know that things like how you organize a salad bar and where you put the fruit bowl affect people's choices, much more than we like to think it does."

The story also points out that though it may seem like a no-brainer for children's hospitals to promote healthy food choices, food is more than nutrition - it's also a source of comfort:

"Yes, we have to practice what we preach. We do have a responsibility to be healthy," said [Dan Henroid, director of nutrition and food services for UCSF Medical Center.] "At the same time, people are here for a reason. Maybe they have a sick loved one upstairs. I don't know that I'm the one to deny them that hamburger and fries if they want it."

Previously: Stealth equals health

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