A Quick Bite of Green Healthcare

Photo by donna cleveland | flickr.com

The relationship between the environmental movement and the healthcare field is kind of like your long lost friend from high school. You try to stay in touch, you both agree that each other are nice people, but no one really sees you together.

Information about people “going green” in the healthcare field isn’t always the easiest to find, which has some people feeling discouraged. However, if you search hard enough for it, you will find it. And sometimes, it’s very surprising to see who’s making the changes. It isn’t always the big, obvious players in the healthcare field like doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators. Even the lesser known professionals like nutritionists are making changes.

In a recent study in the Journal of Topics in Clinical Nutrition, Edelstein, Chiu & Weber looked at how many nutrition professionals were using eco-friendly products. According to the article, there are many ways in which people working in the nutrition field can reduce their impact on the environment, especially through the use of their packaging. The article also looked at ways that nutrition professionals can communicate to their patients how to make more environmentally conscious eating decisions.

The study mainly looked at Registered Dietitians (RDs), who are healthcare professionals that are trained specifically in the area of nutrition. They are commonly employed in hospitals and community centers or in their own private practice. They typically combine medical and nutritional information to create therapeutic diets and meal plans for their patients. RDs are very collaborative with other healthcare professionals and are often employed in inter-professional healthcare teams. To become a dietician, you generally have to have an undergraduate degree, practical experience and pass a dietetic registration examination.

The study found that most nutrition professionals were actually using more eco-friendly products and packaging in their homes than in their workplace (86% vs 68% of the 127 surveyed). The professionals stated that their most common barrier to using eco-friendly products was due to cost both in their workplaces and at home. They generally found that part of the problem with eco-friendly products is that they aren’t always clearly labelled with what they are, what they contain, and how they help the environment. Personally, I think this is an important concern for someone like a dietician who would not want to use an eco-friendly product if it had an ambiguous ingredient such as “natural spices” (which you can sometimes see on eco-products).

Not only was this study great because it looked at how nutrition professionals could improve their use of green packaging, but it also gave a huge set of green recommendations for nutrition professionals and their patients. There were notable cooking tips such as the fact that steam cookers use 90% less water than standard equipment and less electricity. Or interesting websites like this one by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California discuss the current seafoods which should be avoided due to environmental reasons (current members of the list include King Crab, Atlantic or Californian Halibut and many, many kinds of tuna).

Finally, it was also great to see the study mention the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group of the American Dieticians Association. This is a group of dietitians, technicians and students who have formed to promote both nutrition and environmental sustainability. They have a bunch of great programs and even a journal which looks at the topics of hunger, food production and consumption as well as nutritional implications for health and the environment.

So in the end, don’t get discouraged that green healthcare isn’t necessarily a widespread phenomenon yet. The little changes seen above that some professionals are making, are starting to cause others to notice and to take action.