The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) has announced that more than 30 public and private hospitals have joined its voluntary Healthy Hospital Food Initiative, a new program seeking to make healthier food choices available in health care settings. Billed as part of the department’s ongoing effort to curb obesity, the new initiative requires participating hospitals to implement the NYC Food Standards established in 2008 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in four areas: “cafeterias, beverage vending machines, food vending machines and patient meals.”

According to DOHMH, these standards are based on U.S. Department of Agriculture and Institute of Medicine nutritional guidelines and “use progressive strategies to make healthy foods easily available.” Under the new initiative, hospital cafeterias must use a variety of techniques “to make the healthy choice the easy choice” by increasing the availability of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains; limiting the promotion of high calorie beverages; and eliminating fried foods. Participating hospitals must also pledge, among other things, to decrease the availability of high-calorie beverages in vending machines; provide nutritional information about vending machine food choices; and establish patient meal standards that meet nutritional requirements “for individual foods purchased, such as sodium limits for bread and cereal, and for meals served, such as two fruit or vegetable servings at lunch and dinner.”

“Hospitals should set the standard for promoting healthy behaviors and with this initiative in New York City, they are doing just that,” said Health Commissioner Thomas Farley in a September 25, 2012, DOHMH press release, which includes a list of the signatories. “The Healthy Hospital Food Initiative is the most comprehensive approach to improving food options inside our hospitals. I applaud the hospitals that are making changes to offer more healthy options throughout their facilities offering everyone, from patients to visitors, better choices.”