To the editor:
The nutritional deficiency found in the Kelowna general hospitals food is a concern for our community. Nutrients are the compounds in food that are essential to life, health, and energy (The Department of Health). There is ample evidence showing the relationship between early nutrition intervention and reduced complications, shorter hospital stays, re-admission rates, mortality, and the cost of care (Tappenden 147-165).
In our hospitals though, Interior Health serves patients processed meat and frozen meals, rather than a plant-based, whole foods diet. Plant-based diets have been proven to be an effective way of treating chronic disease; and are associated with lower rates of heart disease, obesity, cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and cancer (Plant Based News).
Interior Health states on their website that their menus and recipes are all made with consultation from a clinical dietician, and in accordance to the nutritional, therapeutic, and dietary needs of the patients. In contrast, Heather Fletcher, manager of the St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, argues the reality of the national food crisis, when she states, “Hospitals often take cold processed foods such as lasagna and spoon it out onto patient trays that are heated on carts.”
Furthermore registered dietitian Paule Bernier of Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital said, “most hospitals are cash-strapped and see treating patients, rather than feeding them, as a priority… when someone is ill, their need for proteins and calories is much greater than when they are well, because they have wounds to heal and tissue to repair.”
Margo Bechard, an elderly Kelowna resident, was admitted into the Kelowna General Hospital for multiple health concerns in November of this year. Upon her stay, she was served what she described as “mystery meat” and frozen peas. Every day for breakfast, boxed cereal. The food was so unpalatable that she refused to eat for most of her stay. When people do not eat, their body becomes malnourished. Research shows that malnourished patients have a higher risk of infection and pneumonia. Not only that, but they evidently have longer recuperation time in the hospital. This lack of attention to nutrition does not help the patients heal quickly and properly. The hospital focuses on procedures and medication rather than health and vitality.
Bernier also said “hospitals devote about one per cent of their total budget to food, which breaks down to an average of $8 per patient a day.” This budget although alarmingly low is an animal protein based diet, which is typically a more expensive diet than a plant-based one. Dr. John McDougall showed that a person is capable of eating a starch-rich, plant-based, whole-foods diet, for only $3 a day. That is a savings of $5 per day per patient. Not to mention if the hospital served fresh and healthy food it would largely reduce food waste in the hospital. Dr. Monica Kidd, a family physician, states that around 30 per cent of food is wasted in the hospital, partly because people refuse to eat it. CBC News consulted with several hospitals which all gave similar figures on food waste (CBC News Canada).
Other government funded programs have already taken the necessary steps to transition into healthier food alternatives, such as our education system. The Farm to Cafeteria Foundation, is “a pan-Canadian organization whose vision is vibrant and sustainable regional food systems that support the health of people place and planet… and sustainable foods into all public institutions.” Interior health this is a call to action! Review the treatment of your food services program. Every patient should have a nutritional analysis done upon arrival, which should later be analyzed and reviewed by a registered dietitian. Furthermore, take the steps to implement a more nutritious food program, one that utilizes local food vendors and fresh ingredients.
By doing so patents health will improve, hospital stays will be shorter, and visits less frequent. Interior Health would also save money, and reduce food waste.