Healthier Food Options Make for a Better Bottom Line

Healthier Food Options Make for a Better Bottom Line

When FirstHealth of the Carolinas decided to overhaul its cafeteria offerings in favor of more health-conscious fare, hospital administrators were so committed to the change, they were prepared to subsidize any loss in revenue.

They didn't have to. By communicating with employees, changing portion sizes, providing nutritional information and adjusting prices to make healthier options more affordable, the hospital cafeteria's revenue actually was $70,000 above the budget in the first year.

FirstHealth, a comprehensive health system that serves 15 counties in the mid-Carolinas, is a participant in the Healthy NC Hospitals Initiative, which is funded by The Duke Endowment to support tobacco-free policies and healthy food environments in hospitals. The Endowment gave more than $1.7 million in grants to NC Prevention Partners and the North Carolina Hospital Association for the effort.

FirstHealth Leads Tobacco-Free and Healthier Food Policies

As the first hospital system to implement a tobacco-free policy and one of the leaders in adopting healthier food policies, FirstHealth is a Center of Excellence, serving as a resource and example for others looking to make similar changes.

"They've really shown that you can do it in an economically viable way," says Anne Thornhill, business development manager at NC Prevention Partners.

Progressive pricing and portion control were keys to success, says Barbara Bennett, administrative director of community health services at FirstHealth.

Healthier Choices, for a Lower Price

The hospital decreased prices on healthy foods, and began offering a better selection, while increasing prices on not-so-healthy foods. Healthy fare is displayed more prominently in the cafeteria now, while some less-healthy options are still available but more difficult to find. Even vending machines at FirstHealth are stocked with good-for-you food and beverage options. By increasing the affordability and accessibility of healthy foods, the hospital has seen employees' buying habits change.

"It has made the healthier choices easier, but it's still a choice," says Bennett. "People appreciate that we respect them and still let them make the decisions."

FirstHealth now is helping others, including businesses and a school district, make food policy and culture changes.

"A lot of the things we have done for ourselves... have really filtered out into the community," she says. "It seems to be growing exponentially."

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