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Why can’t hospitals sell junk food? Capital health’s journey to healthy eating – Part 1

Jane-head-shot-(1).jpgJane Pryor is the Director of Operations Support for Capital District Health Authority in Halifax, NS. She is a graduate of the nutrition program at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax and completed her dietetic internship at Vancouver General Hospital. Jane started her career in clinical nutrition but quickly switched to administrative dietetics where she found her passion in managing various programs and services through the years. Jane’s current portfolio includes FNS, Maintenance & Plant Operations, Porter Services, Mail Services, Supply Chain and coordinator of Capital Health’s Environmental Program. Jane can be reached at (902)473-2205 or by email at

This is my first time blogging – I am technologically challenged – but this is an important story to tell and one that we at Capital Health are very proud of. Being asked to participate in the Medical Post story in May 2014 entitled “Why hospitals can survive, and thrive, without fast food,” and getting our successes out there, provided another opportunity to showcase our efforts at Capital Health. So when I asked, “How do I blog?” I was told to, “Write what you know.” So here it goes.

When I attended university in the early 1980s, one question we were asked to debate was: should hospital cafeterias sell french fries? The answer, of course, was yes – we are dealing with adults and they can choose what they want to eat.fries-(1).jpg

Twenty years later, I started my first day as Director of Food & Nutrition Services (FNS) at Capital Health in Nova Scotia and I found a copy of an email on my desk. It was addressed to the CEO from a cardiologist, wanting to know why Capital Health was selling fries and Tim Hortons’ products in the hospital – and what we were going to do about it? My CEO’s reply was that a new director of FNS was starting soon and I would be addressing this issue right away. Here we are 10 years later and I think I finally have a story to tell!

The journey at Capital Health from 2004 until today has been challenging – but rewarding. We have arrived at a place where we can explain what we are doing and why, while defending that position with research and evidence. Over 10 years we have gone from “let’s make sure people have choice” to “this is the right thing to do” (healthy only). There are impacts of every decision made, it is how you deal with those impacts – even prepare in advance for them – that will help your journey be successful.

Our 3 biggest challenges
  • Make changes happen quickly – delays extend the pain and give people false hope. Make a decision, set a date and do it. The fryers were turned off on Aug 31, 2009 end of day as our first public step to healthy only foods in retail at Capital Health.
  • Have people understand that we were not punishing them or treating them like children.  Customers could still eat whatever they wanted, they just could no longer buy certain foods within our walls.
  • Not taking criticisms personally – everyone has an opinion and if theirs is different from yours, they will tell you why they are right and you are wrong.
Our 3 biggest rewards
  • Watching people buy things they told us would never sell – and liking it!
  • Staff and vendors have gotten creative in what we have available to sell that fits our criteria for healthy choices – there is a lot of product available.
  • Supporting people with knowledge at every stage – we do district-wide nutrition education sessions annually, we have a website with tools and links and we engage people at every opportunity we have.
Do not wapple.jpgait until things are perfect – they never will be – just do it and keep moving forward.

You will soon be able to read the full story about our 10 year journey to healthy eating at Capital Health when it is published on our website in Fall 2014. The article will document the challenges and rewards, the need to start with a policy that guides your actions and a strategy that supports people to make the right food choices as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Editor’s note: Look out for part two of this blog series in the fall to learn more about the specific changes Jane has made at Capital Health. They may be just the inspiration you need to make changes at your own site!

Have you made changes to the eating environment at your work site or wished you could? Does your work site have some unique healthy options? Share your thoughts below.
  1. I have to say that at first I was on the side of 'let adults make their own decisions'- but now agree that we should promote what we believe in - eating healthy helps people feel better- emotionally and physically- thanks Jane for being a leader on this!
  2. Modifying the menu was a bold and fantastic initiative - well done Jane and Capital Health!

    There is no doubt McDonald's fries are engineered to be some of the tastiest treats on the market and everyone deserves a treat from a time to time. However, in my opinion, when a patient is in hospital the focus is their recovery, treats and fun snacks can hinder this recovery process. This action also perfectly correlates to Capital’s Vision," Healthy People, Healthy Communities". Thanks.
  3. Jane, thank you for sharing your professional leadership on this issue - both here and in the Medical Post. I loved your comment about not waiting until things are perfect - just do it!
  4. Wow, that's great Nancy!

    I am sure you got some push back from the kids around those changes! I like Jane's advise about making changes happen quickly, it's easier for everyone that way!

    Have other schools in your district followed suit?
  5. I appreciate your concerns on both issues, the blog and the change. Congratulations for telling your story and jumping in.
    As for the cafeteria change, we did the same at our high school, eliminated the fries, pogos, onion rings and got more creative with the food. We were the leaders in our school board and have maintained it for 14 years.

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