Opinion

Should hospitals only let healthy food live?

New York City hospitals soon could ban anything even remotely bad for you

September 26, 2012
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crystal lindell
Crystal Lindell

Look, on an intellectual level, I know plans to ban anything that’s even remotely bad for you from New York City Hospitals make sense.

And I know that as an educated, human being, it’s perfectly reasonable that hospitals wouldn’t sell fried foods, sugary drinks and fatty candies.

I mean, it’s simple, right? Hospitals are supposed to be the Mecca of health in our country. Junk food, is, well, junk for our bodies. Except, nothing is ever that simple.

The measure, led by none other than Mayor Michael “Control Freak” Bloomberg, bans all vending machine snacks with more than:

► 200 calories per package
7 grams of fat (nuts, seeds, nut butters and cheese as well as products containing those are exempt)
2 grams of saturated fat (nuts, seeds, nut butters and cheese are again exempt)
► Any trans fat
► 200 mg. of sodium (cottage cheese can have 400 mg.)
10 grams of sugar (fruits, vegetables with no added sugar and yogurt with less than 30 grams of sugar per 8 ounces are exempt).

To sum up, that means none of the following: Starburst (240 calories); SweetTarts (12 g. of sugar); and of course Hershey bars (just misses the cut off with 210 calories).

But I can’t even cry foul that candy is being unfairly singled out, because that’s not the case. The initiative also apparently would ban a slew of other things in hospitals, including, but not limited to: 

 

► Deep fryers 
► Vending machines beverages with more than 25 calories per 8-oz. serving 
► 2% milk in patient meals

Things get even more strict for “programs serving children 18 and under” (although I’m not sure how they determine that. Are they going to card people?). In those cases vending machines cannot contain products with:

► Artificial sweeteners
► Natural non-nutritive or very low-calorie sweeteners such as stevia 
► Artificial flavors
► Artificial colors

I’m not even going to pretend that I’m at my ideal weight either. Like every woman ever, I’d love to lose 15 stupid pounds, and it doesn’t take a food scientist to see that any means I’ve used to cut back on calories hasn’t been extraordinarily successful. So, why shouldn’t hospitals do their part to help me out?

But for some reason, on a gut level, this whole thing scares me.

Maybe it’s because the guidelines are being used to regulate something in hospitals, but to me, at least, they read like a list of drugs that should be banned. And maybe it would be different if the government wasn’t involved, but they are and they make laws and I worry what this means for the future of food regulation.

Has food become a drug these days? Should it be controlled as such?

I can see the logic here. Food is causing a health crisis on the same level of drugs. We need to regulate it in the same way.

But is that really the answer? Do we really want to start regulating what we eat to such an extreme level? Is the end game here making it illegal for anyone 17 or younger to eat a Snicker’s bar? Is that what will finally solve our obesity crisis? We can all see how well that’s worked to eliminate underage drinking.

Beyond that though, there’s the fact that hospitals are such illogical places to begin with most of the time and the regulations scare me on an emotional level.   

I mean, when I think of hospitals, I think stress, tears, emotional breakdowns, bad magazines in the waiting room, puffy eyes, scared, bad news, horrible, awful exhaustion.

I’ve spent my fair share of nights trying in vain to align waiting room chairs into a configuration I could sleep on while I waited for news on whatever crisis led me to the hospital in the first place. I’ve put in plenty of time by beds covered in sterile white sheets holding a loved one’s hand while I waited for them to wake up.

And I just have to say, that in my weakest moments, during my most exhausting nights, when I’m too stressed to care about anything beyond whatever horrible thing is happening, sometimes, the only solace in the whole situation is a package of M&M’s.

Sometimes, unwrapping that little piece of joy after you realize you haven’t eaten or slept in 27 hours is the only thing that keeps you from completely losing it.

And I would seriously hate to see that totally taken away because Mayor Michael Bloomberg does not approve of my choices in that moment.

Yes, it’s emotional eating. Yes, a Snicker’s Bar is not the best way to stay healthy.

But when you’re in a hospital and the world seems to be in chaos and the outcomes are beyond your control, is it too much to ask that you get to make this one choice? That you get to go to a vending machine and decide, all by yourself, whether or not you want to eat a candy bar, without any help from the mayor? 

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