LOS ANGELES (CBS) — The food being sold at children’s hospitals throughout the Southland frequently is no better than fast-food fare, UCLA and the RAND Corp. said in a study released Friday.

Only 7 percent of hospital entrees could be classified as “healthy,” said the report published in Academic Pediatrics journal.

Researchers from UCLA and Santa Monica-based RAND assessed 16 food venues at the state’s 14 major children’s hospitals “and found there was a lot of room for improvement in their offerings and practices,” according to a statement issued in conjunction with the study.

“As health professionals, we understand the connection between healthy eating and good health, and our hospitals should be role models in this regard,” said Dr. Lenard Lesser, primary investigator and a physician in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program in the Department of Family Medicine at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

“Unfortunately, the food in many hospitals is no better — and in some cases worse — than what you would find in a fast-food restaurant,” he said.

The study measured pricing, availability of vegetables, nutrition labeling, combo promotions and healthy beverages.

While nearly all the hospitals offered healthy alternatives such as fruit, less than one third had nutritional information at the point of sale or signs to promote healthy eating.

Among other key findings:

— All food venues offered low-fat or skim milk and diet soda;

— Most offered high-calorie, high-sugar items such as cookies and ice cream near the cash register;

— A quarter of the hospitals sold whole wheat bread;

— Half the hospitals did not provide any indication that they carried healthy entrees; and

— Less than half did not have low calorie salad dressings.

But things may be improving. Since the study was conducted in July 2010, some of the hospitals surveyed have taken steps to improve their fare and reduce unhealthy offerings, according to the UCLA/RAND statement. Some have eliminated fried food, lowered the price of salads and increased the price of sugary beverages or eliminated them altogether from their cafeterias.

“The steps some hospitals are already taking to improve nutrition and reduce junk food are encouraging,” Lesser said.

Among the hospitals surveyed for the study were: Children’s Hospital Los Angeles; Children’s Hospital of Orange County; Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital; Rady Children’s Hospital — San Diego; Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA; University Children’s Hospital at University of California, Irvine; and University of California, San Diego Children’s Hospital.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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