Healthcare News & Insights

Two studies found offering healthier meals, snacks impact patients’ health

87452883Over the past few years, there’s been a push for hospitals to offer healthier food choices. And some hospitals are doing this by partnering with local farmers to get fresh produce and offering more vegetarian meal choices. But is a vegetarian diet really healthier? 

It depends on what you’re talking about.

The patients at your hospital can be just as healthy by eating a well-balanced diet low in saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol. But there’s a group of patients whose health could benefit from a vegetarian diet — people at risk for colorectal cancer.

A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found vegetarians had a 22% lower risk for all colorectal cancers.

The study had 77, 659 participants who were assessed using a food frequency questionnaire. Their diets were broken down into four vegetarian dietary patterns (vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pescovegetarian and semi vegetarian) and a nonvegetarian dietary pattern.

Study results

During a seven-year follow-up, 380 cases of colon cancer and 110 cases of rectal cancer were documented. And compared to nonvegetarians, vegetarians had a 19% lower risk for colon cancer and a 29% lower risk for rectal cancer.

As for the type of vegetarian diet followed:

  • Pescovegetarians (who eat fish) had a 49% lower risk of colorectal cancer
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians (who consume milk and eggs) had an 18% lower risk
  • Vegans had a 16% lower risk, and
  • Semi-vegetarians had an 8% lower risk.

So your hospital may want to increase your pescovegetarian offerings, especially for patients at risk of colorectal cancer.

Some other interesting findings: The vegetarians in the study tended to be older than nonvegetarians, have higher education levels, exercise and use calcium supplements.

They were also less likely to have ever smoked, drink alcohol, have had a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, use aspirin or statins, have been treated for diabetes in the previous year and have a history of peptic ulcers.

Pressure from consumers

But as a hospital executive you know taking away “nonhealthy foods” and replacing them with healthier offerings isn’t easy.

If you’ve ever tried to move your facility in the direction of healthier foods by maybe banning fast food restaurants in your facility or eliminating fried foods and sugary drinks from your menu, you probably experienced a lot of resistance from patients and their visitors. That’s to be expected when, according to an article on Clinical Diabetes, nearly two-thirds of adult Americans are overweight or obese, and the prevalence of obesity has more than doubled over the past four years.

But knowing that and all of the medical issues tied to obesity should be even more reason to make the switch. After all, hospitals are places people go for health and healing.

Healthier snacking

If your facility hasn’t yet moved in the direction of healthier offerings, you may want to take it one step at a time so your patients and their visitors aren’t overwhelmed.

Maybe start with something small like offering nuts as snacks instead of chips. Reason: Another recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that eating nuts was associated with decreased overall mortality, and mortality from cardiovascular diseases.

The study included 71,764 Americans of African and European descent from the Southern Community Cohort Study, who were mostly low-income, and 134,265 from the Shanghai Women’s Health Study and the Shanghai Men’s Health Study.

Risk for overall mortality in the U.S. study was reduced by 21% and by 17% in the Chinese study among people who ate the most peanuts. And there was a link to a reduced risk of ischemic heart disease in all ethnic groups.

Great news, right? Eat peanuts for pennies and lower overall mortality.

The researchers did point out they can’t make a direct cause-and-effect relationship from the observational data. But they said, “Nevertheless, the findings highlight a substantive public health impact of nut/peanut consumption in lowering CVD mortality given the affordability of peanuts to individuals from all [socioeconomic status] backgrounds.”

 

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