Many hospitals across the nation are looking to improve meal options in an effort to promote healthier diets for patients, visitors and staff. Massachusetts General Hospital’s health care food service has implemented a creative and fun way for diners to assess the nutrition of their food options.
Keeping it simple
MGH labeled their food items with a simple color system, using the traffic light configuration. According to Food Management, the healthiest options were labeled green, slightly less nutritious products were marked yellow and foods with little to no nutrients were designated red. In addition to the color coding, signage was provided that encouraged diners to choose green and yellow items over red ones.
Providing nutritional labels for foods may present consumers with plenty of information, but understanding the terms may be too much for the average diner. Researchers interviewed shoppers before and after the new color coding system and found that respondents who noticed the labels purchased a higher proportion of green than red items.
Lillian Sonnenberg, who works for MGH Nutrition and Food Service and is the corresponding author of the report, noted the results and recognized that the promising numbers are only one of many innovative ways to encourage healthier diets.
“While our results can’t give concrete information about customers’ nutritional knowledge, people were more likely to indicate that health and nutrition were important factors in their decision when the labels were in place, and those who noticed the labels were more likely to purchase healthy items,” stated Sonnenberg. “Although we haven’t directly compared these ‘traffic light’ labels to other systems, we can say that these labels appear to be more effective than the standard nutritional labeling available on packaged products. The strategy is simpler for customers to understand at the point of purchase and, once the appropriate labels for each item are determined, is relatively easy to implement.”
Using the system
Giving the color coding system a try could be a small step that may have big effects. You could start small with the prepared meal vendors before moving onto the cafeteria. Remember to include patients as well. For quick readjustment of the menu, consider purchasing simple stickers and placing the respective color next to each meal option. Additionally, design and print out flyers to insert into each menu describing the system.
Implementing the color system and putting up plenty of signage can help your hospital improve the dietary choices made by staff members, visitors and patients alike.