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Healthier Hospital Initiative Will Improve Food Choices Available at Baptist Health Cafeterias

As a national leader in health care, Baptist Health is joining 12 other top health-care systems around the country in the “Healthier Hospital Initiative,” which has created guidelines for hospitals to choose safer and less-toxic products, purchase environmentally responsible products, and serve healthier foods.

While this initiative also has a focus on reducing energy use and waste, the first step Baptist Health will be undertaking as part of this project is to implement a greater variety of healthier food options in its cafeterias.

Food has always been an integral part of Baptist Health’s healing ministry, and now it is time to begin a new tradition and set a new standard for high-quality food that is great tasting and contributes to the health of Arkansas.

Implementing this initiative in Baptist Health’s food-service areas will exemplify Baptist Health’s commitment to the system’s overall strategy of providing complete health and wellness services to Arkansans.

Once the healthy-food initiative is established within Baptist Health, it will serve as a foundation to expanding the program out in the community beyond hospital walls.

The desired impact of making these changes is to encourage employees and customers to make healthier choices in food consumption and change their eating habits in a healthier direction.

To accomplish this, food and beverage purchases by Nutrition & Food Services will reflect and support this objective, and food preparation techniques will also be modified for healthier cooking.

Serving healthy food is Baptist Health’s professional responsibility to the residents of Arkansas who come to Baptist Health each day seeking healing, wellness, and prevention.

Within Baptist Health’s eight primary hospitals, thousands of meals are prepared and served every day that meet guidelines from the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, and American Cancer Society.

Meals served to patients have historically been lower in fat, sodium, and calories. Now, under this new initiative, cafeteria customers and employees purchasing food in the cafeterias will have better access to meals that meet the same healthy guidelines.

Baptist Health is partnering with several agencies, such as the local Foodshed Farms community-supported agriculture program, to provide local items.

Although not all food products purchased by Baptist Health will come from local sources, items that are will be identified on the menus.

Going back to Baptist Health’s first hospital in downtown Little Rock and continuing with hospitals throughout the system, Baptist Health has had a reputation for serving high-quality and great-tasting food that has been known to draw in the after-church lunch crowds on Sundays.

The first hospital in downtown Little Rock was famous for its turkey and dressing, creamy mashed potatoes, and mile-high coconut pie. The old North Little Rock hospital set the standard for carved roast beef, savory meatloaf, and millionaire pie.

Baptist Health employees and visitors will still have the traditional comfort-food options they have come to love, but under this new initiative they will also get the choice of more fresh, wholesome, locally grown items and healthy recipes.

Promoting healthy eating is particularly important in Arkansas because it is the third-most obese state in the country with 34 percent of adults being overweight, obese, or morbidly obese.

The average Arkansan consumes only 2.5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily compared to the recommended five servings, and some consume up to 6 percent of daily calories from sweetened beverages.

Baptist Health is committed to being part of the solution in changing the state’s eating habits.

Studies show that eating a healthy and plant-based diet helps prevent or lower the risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other conditions ranging from migraines to bone fractures.

To engage cafeteria customers to make healthier choices, a pricing strategy is being developed to provide an incentive for healthy eating habits, portion control will be encouraged, vending services will offer more healthy options, and promotional materials will highlight all of these.

Additionally, Baptist Health has developed the long-term goals to decrease the amount of meat purchased within a three-year period, increase healthy beverage purchases by 20 percent annually, and increase local food purchases by 20 percent annually.

The success of the initiative will depend on the response from employees and other customers and their willingness to try out healthier eating habits.

Baptist Health asks all employees to embrace this healthy-eating initiative and be part of the change to create a healthier Arkansas and healthier health-care system.

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