One of the actions of the National Program for Food (Programme National pour l’Alimentation – PNA) aims to facilitate access to quality food for all, and more specifically to improve the diet of people who do not have the choice of their meal (for example in hospitals, jails, school cafeterias…) or for the most at-risk populations such as children and the elderly people.

By 2050, 1/3 of French population will be more than 60 years old. As a result, tackling nutrition is a major issue for elderly people in French public policy.

Several actions have been thought in order to answer these new needs :

  • improve senior meals in hospitals
  • provide nutrition training for staff working in centers for elderly people
  • Introduce fresh fruits in hospitals
  • Improve the distribution of balanced meals for elderly people at home
  • Improve the respect of guidelines for elderly people in retirement centers
  • Provide information about nutrition guidelines for people who are 55 and older
©Pascal Xicluna/Min.Agri.Fr - Hospital du Mans in France

©Pascal Xicluna/Min.Agri.Fr – Hospital du Mans in France

Nutrition in medical and health

In France there are 500 000 spaces in medical and health centers, occupied primarily by the elderly, and 600 000 in centers for dependent elderly people. The nutrition in medical and health centers accounts for more than 1 billion meals a year. It is much more than the 900 million meals served in school cafeterias.

The French Ministry of Agriculture launched an pilot program in a hospital in Perpignan, in the south of France, to introduce fresh fruits in meals for patients. This initiative was conducted in partnership with the federations of fruit and vegetable producers.

During the summer 2009, a box of fresh fruits and vegetables was given to patients every day in the hospital. This experiment took place in two of the units (maternity and endocrinology wards) of the hospital Saint-Jean in Perpignan. Some 4200 boxes were distributed, which means about 1.2 tons of fresh fruit. Boxes were given out with the lunch trays and left to the patient until evening. Colorful information leaflets on the products and their seasonality were distributed with the boxes and a place mat.
Moreover, as 70% meals are served to patients and 30% to staff, improving quality of food distribution could benefit both.

By offering high-quality and diversified food, the project aimed to make meal-time become more pleasant and also to educate people to adopt good food habits that they can reproduce at home. Patients were very satisfied of this action which contributes also to their well being during their stay at hospital. Besides, having a healthy and balanced diet prevents elderly people from contracting diseases and therefore becoming dependent.

©Pascal Xicluna/Min.Agri.Fr

©Pascal Xicluna/Min.Agri.Fr

On the basis of the very positive results, the French authorities as well as professionals of fruit and vegetable have decided to complete the data already collected in order to expand this initiative at national level.

This experiment could then reach other health institutes, other hospitals, especially long-term stays, and test a distribution of fresh fruit and vegetables year-round with a box more adapted to the purpose.