Hospitals lead by poor example: An assessment of snacks, soda, and junk food availability in Veterans Affairs hospitals

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Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.)


OBJECTIVE: The Veterans Health Administration is the largest integrated health care system fully funded through the US government; however, compliance with government dietary recommendations within Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals is not well known. The aim of this study was to determine which foods are available at VA hospitals and whether these foods comply with government recommendations.

METHODS: Process verification for a Freedom of Information Act request was used to assess government-run inpatient and outpatient VA hospital facilities by accessing the location, quantity, and contents of vending machines. These foods and beverages were then quantified and compared with the US Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 (eighth edition).

RESULTS: Of the beverages supplied, 49% contained >55 g of sugar, supplying >10% of daily calories in added sugar in a single serving. Of all beverages, 50% contained >50 g of added sugar (range 17-77 g per bottle/can). The 65 available food items were comprised of 28% candy, 14% potato chips/puffed corn snacks, 11% pastries/frosted baked goods, 11% crackles/pretzels, and 8% nuts/trail mix, and the remainder consisted of jerky, pork rinds, gum, and popcorn. Nuts/trail mix and granola-items meeting nutritional guidelines-comprised five and three options in total, respectfully.

CONCLUSIONS: All VA Hospitals contain vending machines providing a majority of soda, candy, and junk foods that directly conflict with healthy food choice recommendations from US governing health bodies. Few sources meeting US dietary guidelines are available in vending machines at these government-run facilities, which serve as poor examples for patients who are attempting to follow a healthy diet.

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