Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Why Would a Hospital Serve Poutine?

One of the things I've learned from writing this blog is that make enough noise and have a strong enough case and you'll be amazed what can come of it.

Today I've got an example of a young new doc, using his voice.

Dr. Rob Stevenson, a cardiology resident at Dalhousie, recently wrote a column for the Chronicle Herald detailing his experiences with his hospital's cafeteria.

The QE II hospital's cafeteria had been featured in the news as students from a local school who had outlawed junk food, started showing up in the nearby hospital's cafeteria to eat the now comparatively junkier hospital food. In fact that picture up above was taken by Rob and shows a group of cardiologists and nurses heading over to the high school to see their healthy fare and a group of students heading out to the hospital cafeteria to get their french fry fix.

The QE II, in response to the bad press, apparently came out to state that cafeteria customers were adults, "who can make their own decisions" and that there were some, "healthy choices at point of sale".

Adults sure, but as Dr. Stevenson rightly points out,

"The customers of the QE II cafeterias are often patients and their families, in addition to many of my fellow workers at the hospital. The food is often consumed during the most stressful of times, and throughout long days, and nights in-house."
And about those healthy choices?
"I have been mostly aware of chips, cookies, doughnuts and chocolate bars – hardly a lasting image of sound nutrition."
The QE II has hemmed and hawed that changes will be coming sooner rather than later, but Dr. Stevenson wonders, why wait?
"Every day is the perfect day to stop serving fries and doughnuts. Every day is the perfect day for a health care institution to lead by healthy example."
No, it's not going to change obesity rates in Canada but I can't help but agree with Dr. Stevenson that hospitals have an obligation to patients to lead by example and to quote him again directly,
"On a daily basis, we physicians make recommendations to patients regarding lifestyle, and every day we battle with the poor food choices offered by vendors within the hospital. Why would any fried food (yes, doughnuts are fried) ever be available in a health care facility? Why would a hospital serve poutine?
Why indeed?

Kudos to Dr. Stevenson - I wish there were more docs like him willing to use their voices. Let's hope his noise affects change.

Stay tuned over the course of the next few weeks for more hospital cafeteria woes as I take you on a guided tour of Ottawa's offerings (hint, they're not any better).

: For my international friends and readers who don't know what poutine is, it's french fries, smothered in cheese curds, smothered in gravy. Here's a representative picture.

Bookmark and Share


  1. I had to look up Poutine on Google.

    As for healthy foods.. I work as a teacher in an after school program. We serve a snack every day. A 'healthy snack', according to the literature that gets sent home to parents. Fake cheese with crackers, Sun Chips, and granola bars. Juice (with corn syrup and/or sugar) to wash it down.

    How do we stop learning the wrong way to eat when we're taught that we're eating the right way as kids?

    I don't expect you to have the answer, by the way. Just thinking about it.

  2. I actually laughed out loud at this quote from Dr. Stevenson:
    "On a daily basis, we physicians make recommendations to patients regarding lifestyle, and every day we battle with the poor food choices offered by vendors within the hospital."

    From my experience, and the experiences of friends and family, very few physicians actually speak to patients about lifestyle changes. They are good a making a recommendation to lose weight, but poor about giving advice on how to do that. In fact, most physicians' knowledge of nutrition is severly lacking and I would be hestiant to even take their recommendations on nutrition given how little training they receive in medical school on the topic. Maybe they should have improved skills in refering patients to a Registered Dietitian.

    I know that Dr.Freedhoff is an exception to this generalization since he is an obesity specialist, but from my view, physicians are not well trained in nutrition.

    Maybe that could be the subject of a future blog post.

  3. Hi JC,

    No question most docs aren't schooled well in nutrition or lifestyle management.

    That said while docs may not know the specifics of what to recommend, many will recommend patients "Eat better", or "Lose weight".

    When I lecture docs on how to counsel about such things I usually point out what terrible advice that above statements are when not backed up with specifics. I figure any doc who simply tells their patient to "Eat better", "Lose weight" or worse still, "Eat less and exercise more" does more harm to the doctor patient relationship than good because the patient ultimately thinks their doctor's an idiot - if it were that easy we'd all be skinny.

    Perhaps (though I doubt it), Rob is part of a new breed of docs that are in fact well trained in the nuances of healthy living. That would of course be lovely. I suspect however, it's likely that it's just Rob who's well trained.

  4. Yeah, no idea what Poutine is. I guess I'll google it too. Anyway, I agree. Hospital food often looks a lot like those real life pictures of the frozen dinners you posted before. Yuck!

  5. For those of you who do not know what Poutine is - you are clearly not Canadian! How unfortunate :)

  6. Anonymous12:29 pm

    You can find poutine in the US too, but they might not call it that. A friend and I were in Boston once, and the menu at New York Fries had something called "Montreal Fries". We asked what it was, and it was "fries with cheese and gravy" - in other words, poutine.

    The real reason this stuff is still being served in hospitals is the almighty loonie. Doughnuts are fried and sugar-filled, but when Tim Horton's is shelling out the bucks to hospitals so that they can sell their wares inside, there doesn't seem to be much we can do about it.

    Been to Toronto General Hospital recently? There are TWO Tim's inside of it...not to mention a Starbucks, a fancy coffee cafe, a couple of food courts, and more than one candy store!!

  7. Thanks for the explanation of poutine - had never heard of it. Amazing meal.

    Here in Australia today's newspapers are full of stories about dreadful hospital food. But this time, it's the stuff they're feeding patients. A survey of nearly 800 patients last year found that 51 percent were malnourished when they left hospital. Menus are designed by admin staff, rather than dieticians.

  8. I, too, had never heard of Poutine, but that picture is GROSS! I've been in and out of hospitals a lot this year as a visitor. I can't believe the CRAP they serve at The Cleveland Clinic, which is supposed to be a leading research hospital in the US. The Starbucks is right across from the McDonalds, the taco joint, and the hospital's own "fry it up" cafeteria. YUCK! The whole field of medicine is driven by money, and not concern for patients. That is unfortunate.

  9. I am an RN at a hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio that is the "heart hospital" of the region and we actually have a Wendy's fast food restaurant in the lobby. have your fries then your cardiac cath!