Hospital diets impact patients’ emotions

Allina Health’s decision to ban the sale of certain foods may not be as beneficial as it first seems.

Keelia Moeller

Come New Year’s Day, Allina Health clinics in Minnesota will no longer sell fast food or soda within their buildings. The group manages 13 hospitals and more than 90 clinics in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Some of the names on this list are Abbott Northwestern, Mercy, United and Unity hospitals.
 
To be more specific, the change includes the removal of low-calorie beverages with artificial sweeteners, soda, energy drinks, deep-fried food and prepared coffee and tea beverages.
 
Allina will also be closing a McDonald’s restaurant in Abbott Northwestern Hospital.
 
Allina made this move because of its “Choose Healthy” campaign, which aims to encourage its patients, staff and visitors to make healthy choices overall in their everyday lives.
 
Once this unhealthy food is removed, Allina says it will revamp its cafeteria offerings, providing healthier food options and natural beverages like juice, water and unsweetened coffee or tea.
 
Other hospitals have taken similar but less dramatic steps. Back in July, for example, Health Partners announced it would remove all sugary drinks from its vending machines.
While I see the relevance behind Allina Health’s decision — a hospital trying to promote healthy choices for their patients and visitors — there are many factors the group has failed to consider.
 
First, my father and grandfather passed in and out of hospitals for more than a year. Both had been diagnosed with cancer. There were times where their chemotherapy would not physically allow them to eat — nausea is a common side effect of the treatment. What I remember of their experiences, though, was that the food they managed to keep down was typically fried or unhealthy. It had to be something so appealing that they could fight against their nausea to eat it. 
 
Fried chicken, to be more specific, was always one of my father’s favorite foods. It was accessible to him in many of the hospitals he had visited, and it was often the only meal he would eat in a day.
 
There are so many patients like my father and grandfather who deserve a high-calorie meal after fighting so hard.
 
Second, it’s important for Allina Health to consider those who are visiting loved ones in the hospital. After spending long days with my father, all I wanted to do was share a mocha and some french fries with him. They made things feel almost normal, and we could pretend it wasn’t hospital food.
 
Finally, hospitals host young children either as patients or visitors. They might need to be cheered up after a rough day. Sometimes, ice cream and hamburgers are the best way to do that. 
 
If there are patients who have dietary restrictions against sugary, high-fat or high-carb foods, it is fair to prescribe them with a healthier diet. But when it comes to visitors and
patients without dietary restrictions, we need to let them decide when they should and should not eat fast food.