If food is medicine, why is healthy food such a hard pill to swallow?

Solution: “See one, do one, teach one”

The solution is the very method that medical personnel have been using for years: See one. Do one. Teach one. Teaching Kitchens provide a hands-on learning environment to promote healthy behaviors in the hospital. Providers and patients can be trained to prepare nutritious food, engage in mindful eating, and develop the skills to live a healthy lifestyle. Teaching Kitchens can increase self-efficacy, and will enable providers to promote healthful eating. Promising culinary medicine programs, such as the program at Stanford University, are beginning to pop up in medical schools across the country. Teaching Kitchens should become standard in every hospital and medical school to positively impact the health of the community.

Problem: Healthcare workers are not immune from the obesity epidemic in our country

In fact, over a third of healthcare workers are obese. Long shifts and job stress contribute to obesity. Unfortunately, these are almost unavoidable for healthcare workers, especially with the recent shortage in healthcare workers. Moreover, in the midst of the pandemic, rates of anxiety, depression, and burnout are rampant. Importantly, stress is associated with unhealthy eating behaviors and chronic stress increases the likelihood of chronic disease.

We cannot eliminate the strain on healthcare professionals, but we can reduce risk of disease through improving healthcare food systems. If we can encourage healthy choices for healthcare providers, we can enhance the wellbeing of the very people caring for the rest of us.

Solution: Make the healthy choice the easy choice

The nature of the profession makes healthcare workers susceptible to weight gain, but healthcare systems can play a significant role in environmental factors. For instance, Premier Health offers their employees comprehensive wellness programs that include health challenges, group workshops on high interest topics such as Eating for Wellness, and Lifestyle Management Programs to address behavior change for disease prevention and management. Premier Community Health also collaborates with other companies to improve the productivity and health of the local workforce.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found an association between the health of a hospital’s food and obesity and diabetes prevalence in the state. We don’t know if the chicken came before the egg, but we do know that hospitals have a huge influence on the health of their community. A study utilized a global health model to assess the impacts of dietary change to more plants and less meat. If the world adhered to the global dietary guidelines, we could avoid more than 5 million deaths per year by 2050. It would also save the US billions per year on healthcare. A shift to a healthy diet can drastically benefit wellbeing, and healthcare systems should lead this much-needed movement.

Julia Pangalangan, originally from Dayton, is a graduate student in the Community Health and Prevention Research program at Stanford University. She is passionate about the promotion of the lifestyle medicine movement to prevent chronic disease and reduce health inequities.

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