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For Hospitals, Farmers' Market Is a Way to Model Healthy Living

For Hospitals, Farmers' Market Is a Way to Model Healthy Living

Picture of Linda  Heller

Editor's Note: The Children’s Health Matters blog is a space dedicated to sharing important new research, policy ideas, clinical findings and journalism on child health and development. It’s part of our effort to spur a conversation online and off that offers a rich and varied set of perspectives. As part of that mission, this blog will feature a new column once a month with insights offered by two of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ leading community-based research teams.

The first of the two groups is made up of community-based researchers who are tackling pediatric health challenges stemming from obesity and diabetes. Our other group of Children’s Hospital L.A. contributors is focused on severely ill children who are aging out of pediatric care and the services and benefits that formerly supported them. This post is from clinical nutrition manager Linda Heller, a member of the first team of contributors.

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Visit Children’s Hospital Los Angeles these days on any Wednesday and you are likely to be greeted with the sights and smells of a small but thriving farmer’s market open to all outpatients, families and employees of the hospital. At the market, you can purchase a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as breads, hummus, pita, salads, sauces, honey, flowers, tamales, roasted corn, nuts, seeds, and health drinks among other nutritious items.

As a nation, our health statistics make a compelling case that health care providers must look further down the road with an eye on prevention. There is a growing trend across the country to connect the hospital, a health institution, with wellness rather than just illness — to develop the hospital as a resource not only treat disease but to prevent disease. One way to do that is through diet, which is strongly linked to wellness and prevention.

See Also: Too Few Realize Obesity Can Cause Cancer

The positive effects a diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been repeatedly confirmed in health research, with such a diet linked to a lower incidence of obesity, diabetes, cardiac disease, gastrointestinal disease, cancer, hypertension, and improved overall wellness in adults and children. The benefits of healthy eating are irrefutably clear but it remains hard to bring about such a shift in most urban communities. Public health messages can promote awareness but have limited effectiveness without access to affordable produce. Promoting wellness through diet requires behavior change. Changing behaviors is a gradual process that is impacted by one’s environment. The routine presence of a farmers’ market on site for patient’s families, employees and staff is one way to encourage such incremental change.

At the hospital where I work, our patients and their families are not unlike so many other families with children — busy. However, their lives are often even more complicated, since their loved ones’ health needs require more care, and the opportunity to shop and prepare food is often non-existent. Likewise, our employees and medical staff are often working long hours and grabbing quick meals. As a result of our lifestyles, many don’t know how to prepare whole foods.

Nutritionists know well that the foundation of a healthy diet is a varied diet, and that exposure to new foods increases the likelihood that you will choose those foods in the future. We are also beginning to understand more completely the link between our body and our mind. Health care institutions across the country are beginning to embrace their responsibility to not only educate their patients and employees but to actually model the behavior they are touting, one that supports the basic premises of a healthy lifestyle.

But it’s still far less common to find a farmers market on the grounds of a free-standing pediatric children's hospital, where the sole purpose of the institution is to address the specialty medical needs of a population of children with complex conditions, and the focus of the providers is only on the overriding concern that has brought the family to us. The willingness of such institutions to accept the broader challenges of preventive health among this population of children and their families represents a real shift in thinking.

When we speak about children we are speaking about the family, since children are dependent upon the adults in their lives. Diet is no different. Medically serving children and their families who have conditions that require complex care is a commitment to the entire family. For Children’s L.A., opening a farmers’ market on the grounds has become part of a broader commitment to family-centered disease prevention.

Photo by Gemma Billings via Flickr.

Related posts:

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Too Few Realize Obesity Can Cause Cancer


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