Healthcare News & Insights

Avoid patient malnutrition with better hospital food

Many hospitals have made steps to improve the food served to patients, but there’s more work that needs to be done. According to new research, patients are becoming malnourished during hospital stays because they aren’t eating their meals – and this can have a negative impact on their care. 

Every year, healthcare nonprofit nutritionDay Worldwide sponsors “nutritionDay” at hospitals throughout the country. On that day, hospitals have the opportunity to conduct a one-day audit of their nutrition practices, asking adult patients about their food intake at the hospital, and providing info about the facility’s mortality rates and outcomes.

According to a news release, the nonprofit reviewed data gathered on nutritionDay over the past several years, and it discovered that many patients who were served food during their hospital stay weren’t always eating it.

When patients were asked how much of their meal (either lunch or dinner) they’d eaten that day, 25.8% said they’d only eaten half their meal, and 25.2% said they ate a quarter of their food – or none at all. Only 36.5% said they finished their full meal.

After looking at patients’ health status and risks, researchers concluded that almost 33% of non-ICU hospital patients are at risk of becoming malnourished during their hospital stay.

Plus, the less food a patient ate, the higher their risk of mortality was. Patients who ate none of their food on nutritionDay were six times more likely to die than those who finished their meals.

How to improve food options

Patients who are weakened due to malnutrition can become vulnerable to other illnesses, and it’s more difficult for them to heal. So facilities must do what they can to make sure patients eat appropriate amounts of food. It’s also important for hospitals to place an emphasis on nutrition care and do their best to create the optimal diet for patients’ needs while they’re hospitalized.

That means more facilities must commit to serving healthy options to patients – and their families. Ditching the processed foods and meats in favor of more natural, plant-based options has many benefits, as does replacing sugary drinks with water or unsweetened coffee/tea.

If a patient can’t tolerate a full meal for whatever reason (e.g., low appetite), having healthy snacks available for purchase between meals can help them get the nutrients they need to recover.

Increasingly, hospitals are making these goals a priority. According to the website for the Healthy Food in Health Care initiative, between 2016 and 2017, 57% of its participating hospitals reduced the amount of meat they serve to patients, and 66% purchased meat products raised without routine antibiotics. In addition, 82% of facilities purchased their food locally, and 61% had local or sustainable food purchasing criteria listed in their contracts.

Going forward, it’ll be more important for all hospitals to offer more appealing and healthier meal options to patients, especially as value-based payments pick up steam.

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