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Plant-based food to become the default meals in New York City’s public hospitals

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4 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
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All 11 public hospitals in New York City will now serve plant-based meals to patients by default.

The initiative has been developed by The Better Food Foundation in partnership with New York City Health + Hospitals (NYC H+H) and the NYC Mayor’s Office.

Hospitals in the city started serving patients meat-free lunches by default in March of this year. This move has had a 95% satisfaction rate so far, according to NYC H+H.

A plant-based dinner policy is already in place in Lincoln, Metropolitan and Woodhull hospitals, and will be implemented at eight other sites in the city in the following months. The new options will be on offer in post-acute care facilities by January 2023.

Some 14 new plant-based options have been added to the menus at these hospitals. The meals are inspired by the flavours of Latin, Asian and other cuisines, with the intention of representing the diversity of patients in the health system.

As well as meat-free meals, NYC H+H also plans to offer plant-based supplements and tube feeds to patients.

“In the event we or a loved one has to be in the hospital, we should know that the food served will be comforting, tasty, and health promoting,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Anne Williams-Isom. “Expanding plant-based offerings helps us do just that. Thank you to our food service partners and patient navigators for making this initiative both delicious and successful.”

A wide body of research has shown that following a plant-based diet has many health benefits, such as lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and certain types of cancer. Eating plant-based foods can also help with weight management, and the treatment of some chronic diseases such as hypertension and hyperlipidaemia.

The NYC H+H group serves around three million meals for lunch and dinner every day. Around half of all patients are eligible for meat-free meals at the participating hospitals, and 60% have picked them since the default lunch programme was first implemented.

“As a primary care physician, I speak with all of my patients about the importance of a healthy diet and how it can help fend off or treat chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease,” said President and Chief Executive Officer of NYC Health + Hospitals, Mitchell Katz. “Our new meal program is rooted in evidence for health benefits and environmental sustainability.”

Patients will still be able to ask for meat options which they will be offered in accordance with their prescribed diet.

High-risk patients, those who must follow a specific diet, or who have been given a referral, can meet with registered dieticians at the hospitals to learn about how a plant-based diet could benefit their health.

The initiative builds on the Meatless Mondays scheme, which was introduced to all public hospitals in the city in 2019 in collaboration with Eric Adams, who was Brooklyn Borough President at the time.

Now Mayor of NYC, Adams has advocated for plant-based foods since claiming he reversed his own Type 2 diabetes by following a whole-food meat-free diet.

Since entering office on 1 January 2022, he has introduced several measures to make it easier for residents to access plant-based options, such as bringing in Meatless Mondays and Vegan Fridays to public school lunches.

Adams also helped to expand NYC H+H’s plant-based lifestyle medicine programme to six other public health care sites across all five boroughs in the city. The initiative gives patients living with chronic diseases the tools they need to make healthy lifestyle changes, which includes learning how to adopt a nutritional plant-based diet.

“When it comes to preventing diet-related chronic disease, there is a growing recognition that it’s not our DNA — it’s our dinner,” said NYC Mayor, Eric Adams.

“We are proud to announce the successful rollout and expansion of default plant-based lunch and dinner options at all H+H sites. This transformative program is already changing lives, empowering patients to take control of their own health and further cementing New York City as a leader in preventive medicine.”


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