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In Obesity Battle, Hospitals Need to Lead by Example


Healthy choices are the key to reducing obesity. But this isn't always an easy task - even for physicians and patients in the hospital.

I could not help but notice the dire prediction this past week about our country’s future health. Medical experts now predict that by the year 2030, 42 percent, or almost half, of the U.S. population will be obese. The impact upon future healthcare costs and services is ominous and a potential public health disaster. Upon these points, very few seem to disagree. However, the causes, and moreover, the solutions, to this impending epidemic, seem to be controversial and disparate.

Two physicians sitting next to me at the hospital a few days ago were convinced that fast foods needed to be taxed more. I’m not so sure. Although we consume less of what is taxed more, (witness the decline in tobacco usage), I don’t think that fast food totally explains the problem. Besides, as one who feels that liberty and choices should be individual, and not government-mandated, I innately object to this form of social policy. I almost never frequent a fast food restaurant, and yet I am 10 pounds to 15 pounds over my ideal weight. I could exercise more and give up an occasional sweet or pizza, but at least for me, fast food is not the culprit.

So as I perused the doctors’ lounge breakfast and lunch offerings recently, I was struck by the lack of healthy choices, even for physicians. I could have two-hour-old oatmeal and a banana –– good choice –– or go for the eggs, bacon, and cheese Danish or bagel –– not so good choice. Sometimes there is Activa yogurt and fruit cups. But sometimes there is just the artificially sweetened, colored, and thickened gunk that poses as a health food.

Here’s a hint to the dietary department: Get me some Greek yogurt –– preferably plain, granola, and honey. How about some nuts and dried fruit as well? Bircher Muesli would be fantastic, but I realize this European staple may not have mass appeal on this side of the pond.

Lunches are even worse. There is dry and tough chicken and pork, grain-fed beef of some sort, or smelly dried up fish pretending to be healthy. If it is tilapia or salmon, it is most likely farm-raised and full of toxins, antibiotics, and an unhealthy ratio of Omega 6:3 fatty acids. Cooked vegetables are limp and tasteless, and there may be other less than healthy side dishes like mac and cheese or fried anything. The best I can hope for is a good salad bar, to which I add my own oil and vinegar. Give me beans, lentils, and whole grains as well.

And if they are feeding us this stuff, then what must they be giving my patients? Let’s not even go there. Sadly, the healthcare epicenter apparently can’t, or won’t, offer its own staff and employees, the kinds of foods that are the cornerstone of a healthy diet. We can debate the low carb vs. low fat squabble that seems to have gone on for decades. I am only asking for a better variety of fresh, organic, and natural foods from the very institution that purports to provide the best healthcare in the community.

Doctors do respond to better cuisine. One of the hospitals I frequent is lucky to have a chef from the Middle East, and many of his dishes reflect the proven healthier Mediterranean diet. Popular dishes abound, such as chicken tagine, hummus, lentil soup, and real Greek salad. His cooking is so popular that many doctors joke he is the best marketing tool for patient admissions.

Let’s see if they can put their kitchens and menus in the forefront of changing our dietary habits, and stop contributing to the problem. Hospitals need to start leading by example. I’d rather see this innovation then a new glitzy ad touting how they are on the cutting edge of some new procedure, and really concerned for the community’s health.

Now where is that pizza and chocolate chip cookie –– I’m getting hungry.

Find out more about David Mokotoff and our other Practice Notes bloggers.

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