Health Care Without Harm Helping Hospitals Increase Access to Healthy Food for Their Communities; Report Shows Such Programs Improve Public Health

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Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) releases report showcasing the role hospital community food programs can play in improving population health.

Hospitals across the country are greeting today’s Union of Concerned Scientists report as a validation of efforts they are already undertaking to improve patient health by providing patients with more access to fresher, healthier food. Massachusetts-based Steward Health Care has embarked on an innovative strategy to reduce hospital readmissions for patients with congestive heart failure by contracting with the local organization City Fresh to supply a therapeutically appropriate home meal service using locally-sourced and sustainably produced foods. Miles Memorial Hospital in Damariscotta, Maine, has implemented employee subsidies for purchasing community supported agriculture (CSA) shares, which provides regular deliveries of local produce, in an effort to reduce health insurance claims made to this self-insured facility. Bowdoin Street Health Center, an affiliate of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA is offering healthy food prescriptions for their clinic patients to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from their on-site farmers market. These are only a few examples of the work underway within hospitals working with the Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Healthy Food in Health Care Program to increase availability of healthy foods for the communities they serve.

In a report released today, the Union of Concerned Scientists documents the positive role that increasing access to healthy food can play in disease prevention, reducing health care costs, and improving community health. As anchor institutions within the community, hospitals and health care organizations have long been a vital resource to sustain the health of those they serve. Health care organizations are now deepening this role by supporting the economic viability of local farms, supporting sustainable production practices through their purchases, and connecting with community-based programs that provide education and access to healthy foods. Their initiatives include subsidized CSA subscriptions for low income community members, fruit and vegetable prescription programs, on-site vegetable gardens, and farmers markets with double value coupon programs. To support these initiatives, hospitals are utilizing the new IRS community benefit guidelines, which have set forth a model of prevention-based care that has hospitals fostering wellness rather than simply treating sickness. Nationally, the Healthy Food in Health Care Program assists these health care organizations in implementing these programs and utilizing their respected voices to elevate best practices and foster foundational policy shifts that support these efforts.

“Cardiovascular diseases in this country are a huge problem, and the heath and economic consequences of these diet-related illnesses affect all of us,” said Jeffery O’Hara, agricultural economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and author of newly released report, The $11 Trillion Reward: How Simple Dietary Changes Can Save Lives and Money, and How We Get There. “But by implementing innovative strategies to change farm policy making fruits and vegetables more accessible and affordable, we can reduce the incidence of these diseases. Clinicians and hospitals can help by modeling best practices to inform policy change.”

Nationally, more than 450 hospitals and food service management companies have committed to implementing strategies to improve their hospital food and beverage environments by signing Health Care Without Harm’s Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge. Additionally, nearly 1000 health care facilities have committed to the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) to track and benchmark their progress towards measurable goals that improve their internal hospital environment.

Heath Care without Harm (HCWH) is an international coalition of more than 500 organizations in 53 countries, 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. See To learn more about HCWH’s Healthy Food in Health Care Program, visit our website at

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Stacia Clinton

Eileen Secrest
Health Care Without Harm
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