NHLT Supports San Diego County Hospitals to Continue Building a Healthy, Sustainable Food System in 2015

By Elizabeth Vaughan and Colin Cureton, CHIP Food Systems Team

NHLT Image (1)

California hospitals are leading the way in making healthful, sustainable foods and beverages the norm in healthcare systems across the nation, and much of that work is happening in San Diego County. An important initiative that has served as a platform for collaboration to advance this work is the Nutrition in Healthcare Leadership Team, or NHLT.

The NHLT is making great strides in bringing healthy food to healthcare institutions across the San Diego area. The NHLT was formed almost 5 years ago as a subcommittee of the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative’s healthcare domain. Since then, the group has engaged over 20 San Diego County hospitals, formed a mission & vision, established and advanced a detailed 3-year strategic plan, and been a participant and leader in state-wide and national campaigns through its partnership with Healthcare Without Harm’s (HCWH’s ) Healthy Food in Healthcare program. The NHLT is just one of several hospital leadership teams supported by HCWH that are advancing similar work throughout the country. The NHLT is currently co-chaired by the Nutrition Services Directors at Kaiser Permanente, San Diego and UC San Diego Health.

On December 3rd, 2015 seven San Diego County hospital institutions gathered at Sharp Coronado Hospital to reflect on their 2015 efforts and lay out next steps for the 2016 year.   Prior to the meeting, NHLT members were treated to a “Mindful Meal” at Sharp’s newly renovated Mindful Café.  Enjoying a portabella grilled burger, butternut squash ginger soup and other delicious, healthy items was a perfect lead for the discussion to follow. No jello was in sight.

The convening began by re-capping our 2015 activities. It has been a busy year for the NHLT, its hospital members, and CHIP, including:

  • Holding 7 NHLT gatherings
  • Attending a 2-day, plant-based chef-training in the Spring, hosted by Palomar Health
  • Presenting on NHLT at the national Childhood Obesity Conference
  • Participating in planning meetings in Oakland, CA for School Food Focus & Health Care Without Harm’s Ed-Med Collaborativee along with NLHT leaders from Palomar, UCSD, and Kaiser.
  • Hosting a special lunch connecting six sustainable vendors with 14 hospital food service representatives, including 5 new NHLT members.
  • UCSD Health serving on the planning committee for the 3rd annual Let’s Go Local! Produce Showcase, which over 200 people attended!
  • 6 San Diego County hospitals attending the Produce Showcase, with at least one making an important business connection at the event.
  • Hosting the Dec 3rd strategic planning lunch.

These activities were all conducted as components of the NHLT’s 3-year strategic plan to advance healthful, sustainable food and beverage practices in San Diego County healthcare systems.

It’s been a big year for HCWH as well. This year HCWH’s founder, Gary Cohen, won a Macarthur “genius” award. The organization also was awarded a Robert Wood Johnson Grant that will support the expansion of the Healthy Food in Healthcare program and to research how hospitals community benefits program can be used to help build a healthy, sustainable food system.

The broader events of 2015 even further highlight and validate the work of NHLT, HCWH, and CHIP. For example, this year CA Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 27, which will eliminate the use of medically-important antibiotics in CA poultry and livestock operations by 2018. While plenty controversial, the World Health Organization’s ruling that processed meat is a carcinogen and red meat is a probable carcinogen lends major credence to the NHLT’s work over the past few years to reduce meat consumption due to its high cost to both human and environmental health.

NHLT’s 2015 activities are just the latest wave in a 3-year process in which San Diego County hospitals have made a tremendous amount of progress. Through a recent survey of NHLT members conducted in partnership between the COI and BW Research, we found that over the last 3 years:

  • 100% of reporting hospitals have reduced their meat offerings or meat serving sizes
  • 90% increased the purchasing of locally and/or sustainably grown food
  • 90% have improved their beverage and vending policies and practices
  • 70% have increased their purchasing of meat and poultry raised without the routine use of medically important antibiotics

While less common, some San Diego County hospitals are also leading the way through practices such as adopting a Sustainable Food Service Policy (30%) and adopting contract/RFP language prioritizing local and/or sustainably produced food (60%). Several NHLT-member hospitals are now sourcing all raw chicken and beef raised without routine use of antibiotics. Thanks to strong healthy beverage and vending policies, it’s now hard to find a soda in many San Diego County hospitals (if you can find one at all!). Ever more creative strategies are beginning to emerge. For example, another local hospital is planning to bring a local mobile farm stand twice a week to campus so employees & patients can buy fresh fruit and vegetables before heading home.

NHLT Healthy Vending pic
A snapshot of NHLT’s Healthy Vending in Healthcare Standards

Thanks to these hospitals efforts and for their collaborative efforts that help make the NHLT a true success. Through the NHLT, the healthy choice is becoming the easy choice. We look forward to continuing to support these hospitals activities in 2016, and to continue using the NHLT as a collaborative platform through which San Diego County hospitals continue to help build a healthy, sustainable food system.


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