Green and Clean

By Sapna E. Thottathil, Michelle Gottlieb, Lucia Sayre on March 19, 2012

Clinicians work toward providing a healthier food system for their patients.

Obesity, diabetes, malnutrition, heart disease, childhood cancer, and other chronic diseases are the costly consequences of an industrialized food system that favors processed foods and relies heavily on the use of pesticides, antibiotics, and other chemicals. Not only does this food system contribute to environmental degradation—including air and water pollution, climate change, and the loss of biodiversity—but the health care sector bears the burden of treating the diseases that result from poor diet and environmental contamination. Health care professionals can be part of the solution, however, by promoting food choices that are beneficial for our health, our communities, and our environment.

In 2011, Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) and the Healthy Food in Health Care Program launched Food Matters, a new initiative that guides clinicians to help their patients make better food choices, and equips providers to address the problems of a broken food system. Aimed at informing and empowering clinicians on food and health issues, Food Matters encourages hospitals and health care professionals to become advocates for a food system that promotes public and environmental health. The program trains clinicians to inform patients and families about the importance of eating well, to create healthy food environments within health care facilities, and to promote community engagement on policies that support the development of a healthy, accessible, and fair food system.

Promoting Greener & Cleaner Food

This past year, HCWH focused on developing a Food Matters curriculum for maternal and child health care professionals. Young children are uniquely vulnerable to the problems of the industrialized food system. Children are developmentally immature, meaning that their immune systems, blood-brain barriers, and liver-detoxifying mechanisms have not reached full maturity. Children also have a higher metabolic rate and cellular growth, eat and drink more per unit of body weight than adults, and are in regular contact with the environment, all of which increases their exposure to contaminants. Additionally, children are frequently the targets of unhealthy food advertisements.

Studies have found industrial chemical compounds and pollutants in umbilical cord blood, breast milk, and amniotic fluid. Other research has revealed that childhood obesity, diabetes, and other illnesses are on the rise as a result of poor diet. These are grim facts, given that the health impacts of in-utero and early-life nutrition can have consequences throughout a person’s life. Good nutrition and a healthy environment are essential requirements for human development.

In addition to teaching participants about the above issues, Food Matters also presents a variety of strategies to help clinicians address food concerns for expectant mothers and young children, and to help them implement a healthy food agenda in their own institutions and surrounding communities. These strategies vary in scale and scope: They might take the form of teaching health care practitioners how to promote and procure healthy food for their institutions, or how to support community efforts to increase farmers markets and grocery stores in neighborhoods with limited access to healthy food.

Further Education

In addition to in-person Food Matters training, HCWH has developed a three-part webinar series in collaboration with Kaiser Permanente and the American Medical Association. This online training explores the health and environmental implications of the industrialized food system and its impacts on chronic diseases and obesity. Programs review current science around environmental exposures within our food system (such as pesticides, antibiotics, BPA, arsenic, and endocrine-disruptors) and their impacts on pediatric, reproductive, and ecological health. The webinars also provide advocacy training to equip health care providers to lend their powerful voices to crucial food and health policy debates.

HCWH is expanding the scope and scale of Food Matters resources and materials in 2012, including translating training materials into Spanish and developing culturally appropriate materials for community health workers. HCWH will host a pilot training in Spring 2012 with the Promotores program in California, and will work to distribute materials through national networks such as Planned Parenthood. HCWH is also collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to offer an online Food Matters course and to incorporate it into the Weight of the Nation Conference in 2012. In conjunction with these events, HCWH also will integrate Food Matters into medical schools and health-related graduate school curricula.

Regional Healthy Food in Health Care Happenings:
Education and Networking Events in Your Area

Food Matters Clinical Education and Advocacy Program

Food Matters Grand Rounds

DATE April 25, 2012, time TBD

Hosted by Fletcher Allen Health Care, Burlington, VT


The Healthy Food in Health Care Initiative is led by a team of representatives from the following HCWH member groups: Ecology Center, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Institute for a Sustainable Future, Healthlink, Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment, San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, Vermont Fresh, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Women’s Health and Environmental Network.

For more information

Check out the Food Matters Initiative page of the Healthy Food in Health Care website, which has several reports linking health care settings and the food sector. Be sure to view the videos that are available for download:

Food Matters webinars are hosted on the Healthy Food in Health Care website, are accessible through the AMA and Kaiser websites, and are archived for CME credit for one year. To participate in an AMA-accredited Food Matters webinar training, check out the following website:

If you would like to set up a Food Matters training at your facility, contact:

Michelle Gottlieb

Co-Coordinator, Healthy Food in Health Care Program Health Care Without Harm
(617) 216-5658

Lucia Sayre

Co-Coordinator, Healthy Food in Health Care Program Co-Executive Director, San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility
(510) 559-8777


Sapna E. Thottathil, Program Associate
Physicians for Social Responsibility

Michelle Gottlieb, Co-Coordinator
Healthy Food in Health Care Program
Health Care Without Harm

Lucia Sayre, Co-Executive Director
San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility
Co-Coordinator, Healthy Food in Health Care and Food Matters Programs
Health Care Without Harm