THE first Australian hospital to ban fatty and sugary food and drink from its cafeteria is leading the way again in the fight against lifestyle-related disease with a ground-breaking menu for patients.
Western District Health Service in Hamilton, Victoria, has opted for a menu that is purely “green traffic light” food only under the Healthy Choices program.
Introduced in 2016 as a voluntary framework for Victorian public hospitals, it recognised green, amber and red traffic light foods – categorised by the health value of those foods.
While many hospitals have adopted the traffic light system, Hamilton is the first to offer green-only foods.
Lifestyle-related diseases including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and high blood pressure are all a major drain on the hospital system.
Chief executive of the Hamilton hospital Rohan Fitzgerald says the move supporting healthy food choices is part of a broader drive to educate and make healthy choices easier for patients and their families.
“We’ve spoken to the Department of Health and Human Services, and we know there is no other health service that has met this level of meeting the healthy eating guidelines,” says Mr Fitzgerald.
“This has been a three-year journey. We were the first hospital in Australia to remove sugary drinks in 2012.
“We also publicly petitioned government for a sugar tax, since evidence from the Grattan Report backed this as a method to improve public health.”
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In 2017, hospitals came under a blanket ban on sugary drinks in their cafeterias. This was one element of the “Healthy Choices in Health Facilities” policy introduced by NSW Health.
The policy imposed a rule of 25 per cent maximum of a cafeteria or vending machine offerings being defined as “junk food”.
At that time, NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant referred to the goal of a 5 per cent reduction in overweight and obese adults by 2020 as the driving reason for the new rules.
Mr Fitzgerald is confident the gradual introduction of healthy living initiatives in Hamilton has prepared the community for the green-light menu in the hospital.
“Seventy per cent of people in the Western Region of Victoria are overweight and obese, which is much higher than the national average which is approximately 66 per cent according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports,” he says.
“The obesity rates for young people in our area are also much higher than the national average. That was a strong indicator that as a community we needed to make a change.”
As far as developing a menu that offered healthy foods without sacrificing flavour nor eradicating all existing options, Mr Fitzgerald praises the creativity of their chefs and also acknowledges the support of the Victorian Government.
“We’ve got some really innovative chefs in our organisation,” Mr Fitzgerald says.
“We’ve had to revisit 150 menu options and focus on reducing fat, sugar and salt content.
“We’ve had to look at what we can substitute to meet the green light standards. So, everything on the menu goes through a Food Checker, developed by the Victorian Government and also the Healthy Eating Advisory Service.”