Sustainable Food Meets Health at Kaiser Permanente’s Facilities

We all know that good, healthy food is key to good health, and healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente has taken the message to heart. The company has announced that it now hosts more than 50 farmers' markets and stands at its hospitals and facilities across the U.S.

Bringing healthy food closer to patients and increasing their intake of fruit and vegetables is at the core of the initiative. And it’s working. A recent survey published by the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development found that 74 percent of patrons surveyed at Kaiser Permanente markets consume more fruits and vegetables as a result of shopping at the market; 71 percent indicated that they were eating a greater variety of fruits and vegetables.

Kaiser Permanente recently launched a new weekly, all organic farmers market outside its headquarters in Oakland (CA). New markets and farm stands have also opened this summer in Corona (CA), Cleveland Heights and Willoughby (OH). In addition to those markets, Kaiser Permanente hosts markets in Hawaii, Oregon and Maryland.

“We recognize that locally grown food from family farms is less taxing on the environment and ultimately healthier for those who grow and eat the food,” said Jan Villarante, Kaiser Permanente’s director of national nutrition. “We’ve seen overwhelming evidence that when people have access to farmers markets, they will take advantage of the market produce and increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables.”

The organization is also bringing sustainable food closer to patients by increasing the share of locally and sustainably sourced food in its hospitals, cafeterias and vending machines. Now 50 percent of all fresh produce that Kaiser Permanente purchases each year to serve on patient menus are sustainably produced. The company’s criteria to classify produce as sustainable means it needs to be either grown within 250 miles of the facility or certified as sustainably produced by a third-party eco-label.

But it’s not just Kaiser Permanente’s facilities that have embraced sustainability. A recent report from Health Care Without Harm, which promotes sustainable practices in health care institutions, says that about 80 percent of 89 hospitals surveyed nationwide now host a farmers market or community supported agriculture program on site.

The Menu of Change survey was conducted in June 2011 and was designed to gather data on advances made in 2010. Eighty-nine facilities completed the survey including many that have signed the HCWH Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, a commitment to increase the sourcing of more local and sustainably produced food. Facilities ranged in size from 11 to 1,200 beds with an average size of 300. They served an average of 731 patient meals and 1650 cafeteria meals per day in 2010 and spent approximately $291million dollars total on food and beverages.

Image credit: Kaiser Permanente