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NURsing home and hospital food service – Implementation of Healthy and Sustainable Diets (NURISHD)

This project examines the status quo of food service in healthcare institutions and evaluates the feasibility of shifting dietary patterns towards the Planetary Health Diet as an ecologically sustainable and healthy dietary pattern.

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About the project

Full title:

Feasibility of implementing the Planetary Health Diet in healthcare facilities – ecological, economical, and health aspects

How we feed ourselves has a considerable impact on both the environment and human health. Food production and agriculture are a leading cause of the biggest ecological challenges of our time: the climate crisis (Springmann et al. 2018), destruction of natural habitats (Springmann et al. 2018), and the dramatic loss in biodiversity (Tilman et al. 2017). At the same time, unhealthy dietary patterns that are high in processed and animal-source foods lead to serious health problems such as obesity and chronic diseases. In Europe, unhealthy diets are responsible for one-quarter of premature deaths (Watts et al. 2020). A food system transformation with a shift towards healthy and ecologically sustainable diets is essential for tackling the collective environmental and health crises. The Planetary Health Diet is a dietary approach that combines compliance with the planetary boundaries and healthy food consumption for optimal human health (Willett et al. 2019).

The food service sector, which includes catering within healthcare facilities, plays an important role in the environmental footprint of the food system. Transitioning hospital and nursing home food procurement towards the principles of Planetary Health has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other negative environmental impacts while also promoting the health and well-being of patients and residents. However, a shift towards healthier and more sustainable diets in these facilities faces major challenges regarding specific nutritional needs of vulnerable population groups, substantial financial pressures, and potential barriers stemming from beliefs and attitudes of staff and patients/residents.

The NURISHD project aims to assess the feasibility of implementing a sustainable and healthy diet in German healthcare facilities. The status quo of food service in a select number of healthcare facilities will be analyzed for its nutritional value and environmental footprint. We will assess the adaptability of the standard food service to the Planetary Health Diet with potential modifications that take into account the specific nutrient requirements of patients/residents and the economic constraints of healthcare facilities. Additionally, the knowledge and attitudes of employees and patients/residents will be surveyed and existing personnel and structural barriers identified. The adapted Planetary Health Diet will be implemented in a pilot phase to assess the acceptability and feasibility of transitioning food service in healthcare institutions.

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