HCWH "Balanced Menus Challenge" Begins

  • US & Canada

September 23, 2009
Health Care Without Harm Press Release
Contact: Eileen Secrest  540-376-4495

Hospitals Reduce Climate Impact and Promote Health Through "Balanced Menus Challenge"

Hospitals Accept Challenge to Reduce Meat Offerings by 20 Percent in 12 Months

Arlington, VA — Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) has announced the "Balanced Menus Challenge," a voluntary commitment by healthcare institutions to reduce their meat offerings in patient meals and hospital cafeterias by 20 percent in 12 months. Balanced Menus is a climate change reduction strategy that also protects the effectiveness of antibiotics and promotes good nutrition. Fourteen hospitals already are participating in the national Balanced Menus Challenge, which was developed by HCWH's Healthy Food in Healthcare Initiative.

"The Balanced Menu Challenge is one of the commitments our team is making to make this a reality. At the same time, we know that we are working toward a larger goal of improving our environment for the future of our community."
— Jamie Harvie
Chair, HCWH Healthy Food in Health Care Initiative

The USDA recommends 5 to 6 oz of meat, fish, poultry or beans per day, and, for meat alone, Americans on average eat 8 oz daily. Hospital food service operations often mirror this trend, offering sizable servings of meat several meals per day. High consumption of conventionally-produced meat and processed meat contributes to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, dementia, and some kinds of cancer. Over-consumption of meat contributes to the overwhelming cost of the U.S. health system (estimated to be $147B as a result of obesity management alone), as well as environmental damage such as climate change and water and air pollution.

Most hospitals buy substantial amounts of meat, typically through large distributors who source from the U.S. commodity beef, pork and poultry markets. U.S. food production relies heavily on fossil fuels, and red meat production is particularly energy intensive, as it requires significant inputs of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to grow crops for feed. The food system accounts for over 10 percent of overall energy use in the United States. Globally, livestock for meat and dairy production accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gases, more than all of Earth's cars, trains, and planes combined.

"While food choice is distinctly personal, the healthcare community should be at the forefront in modeling a healthy food agenda for the nation," said Jamie Harvie, chair of the HCWH Healthy Food in Health Care Initiative. "Encouraging a reduced and sustainable meat diet is part of a primary prevention agenda to reduce the nation's chronic diet-related illnesses, but also contributes substantially to climate mitigation, clean air and water, and protection of the effectiveness of antibiotics."

"As institutions with considerable buying power, hospitals can demonstrate leadership to the marketplace by reducing the overall quantity of meat and poultry served and through purchasing of sustainably produced meat."
— Jamie Harvie
Chair, HCWH Healthy Food in Health Care Initiative

Most U.S. meat is produced under a system that relies on the routine feeding of antibiotics to make animals grow faster and consume less feed grain. Arsenic compounds and hormones are given to animals for similar reasons. These additives further contaminate animal manure, which then moves off the crowded facilities, polluting land, air and water. Sustainably-raised meat and poultry precludes the use of antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes. Approximately 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to healthy animals to promote growth and compensate for crowded conditions and poor husbandry practices in conventional animal production.

"As institutions with considerable buying power, hospitals can demonstrate leadership to the marketplace by reducing the overall quantity of meat and poultry served and through purchasing of sustainably produced meat," stated Harvie. "The health care sector is increasingly aware of its responsibility to model healthy behavior for the community. Reducing their meat purchasing will help reduce the overall cost of medical care in this country, with benefits ranging from savings in actual food service costs to reduction in pollution. Most importantly, however, these changes will contribute to healthy lifestyles that will improve the health of Americans."

"The Truman Medical Centers are dedicated to serving our community," stated John Bluford, CEO, Truman Medical Centers, Kansas City, MO. "We are committed to improving the health and welfare of my associates, which I hope will extend into their communities. The Balanced Menu Challenge is one of the commitments our team is making to make this a reality. At the same time, we know that we are working toward a larger goal of improving our environment for the future of our community."

"As we debate health care reform in the U.S., it is important to recognize that eating less conventionally-produced meat will reduce drivers of many of the major chronic diseases that threaten the sustainability of our health care system," stated Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, of the Science and Environmental Health Network. "It is good for people and good for the planet."

For more information about the "Balanced Menus Challenge," go to the Healthy Food section of the Health Care Without Harm website.

Heath Care without Harm, an international coalition of more than 500 organizations in 53 countries, is working to transform the health care sector, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment. To learn more about HCWH's work, visit our website at www.noharm.org, our YouTube channel at HCwithoutharm, and our twitter feed at hcwithoutharm.