Policy scan - Nourishing the future of food in health care

Thursday, July 18, 2019 - 11:22am

The health of Canadians, and that of our health care system, is being significantly affected by diet-related chronic disease, food insecurity, antibiotic resistance and climate change. An important factor in all of these pressures is our current food system.

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Nourish: The Future of Food in Health Care aims to build a future where the impact of food on health is understood and valued. This includes taking a broader look at food that can be more healthy, delicious, local, sustainable and cultural in health care settings. It is grounded in the work of 26 innovators in hospitals, health centres and long-term care facilities across Canada who are changing the role of food in health care. Nourish also supports collaborative projects, cross-sectoral convening and policy innovation. It is a project led by the McConnell Foundation with key partners including HealthcareCAN, Healthcare Without Harm, Food Secure Canada and the Canadian Coalition for Green Healthcare.

HealthCareCAN’s Issue Brief The Role of Food in Hospitals (Murphy, 2017) outlines some of the key issues with hospital food including the need to improve the patient food experience, address malnutrition, provide food that appeals to people of diverse cultural backgrounds and increase the nutritional value of retail food options. Similarly in long-term care settings, older adults are often nutritionally vulnerable. Making the Most of Mealtimes (Keller, 2016) and Exercising Choice in Long-Term Residential Care (Armstrong & Daly, 2017) identify the need to support better food intake by improving menus and the taste of food, creating more welcoming, comfortable eating spaces and providing person-centred techniques and choice. Many other actors see the broad opportunities for leveraging the purchasing power of public institutions towards local, sustainable, resilient food systems.

Nourish’s work so far has brought to light many opportunities for reimagining food in health care to positively affect patient experience, institutional culture and community well-being. However, there are many challenges in moving forward that stem from the policies, regulations and practices that govern food in health care — in both food and health care systems.

Health care facilities in Canada have a tremendous opportunity through demonstrated leadership and “whole of hospital” approaches to food that can generate health, economic and environmental impacts through the $4 billion spent annually on food services (“Nourish Infographic”, 2018). Public policies, within governments and facilities, are a powerful way to drive and support these many cross-cutting impacts on health, agriculture and equity.

The McConnell Foundation commissioned Food Secure Canada to conduct a pan-Canadian scan and create an inventory of existing health, agriculture and procurement policies that guide food in health care settings in order to better identify opportunities for policy innovation that can help shift hospitals and other care centres toward more healthy, delicious, local, sustainable and cultural food. This report aims to highlight policy gaps and opportunities before us.