D.C. Bill Would Ban Hospitals From Serving Bacon to Dying Patients

And to everyone else, too.


People will want to stock up on comfort food and snacks before visiting their loved ones in D.C. hospitals, should a new bill from City Councilmember Mary Cheh become law.

Cheh's Healthy Hospitals Amendment Act of 2022 would prohibit hospitals in the city from serving bacon, sausage, and other processed meats, and mandate that they expand their offerings of plant-based meals and healthy beverages.

"Research shows that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans, can help fight heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer," wrote Cheh in a letter Friday letter introducing her bill, noting that less than 10 percent of D.C. adults are getting the recommended number of vegetables in their diet. "With this bill, we can help to increase those numbers by ensuring that everyone at hospitals has access to healthy meals."

It's not a new idea. WAMU reporter Martin Austermuhle notes on Twitter that Cheh first introduced this bill in 2019, but it stalled in the city council.

The legislation is based on a 2017 resolution from the American Medical Association calling for hospitals to eliminate processed meats, promote healthy beverages, and provide healthy food at reasonable prices.

The outright ban on processed meats—defined as meats that have been "been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation"—is complemented by a number of regulations to nudge people into picking healthier drinks.

Cheh's bill would require that 75 percent of drinks in hospital vending machines, cafeterias, and cafes be non-sugar-sweetened beverages. Waters and sparkling waters would also have to be placed at eye-level in vending machines, or in the highest-selling position in the vending machine. Sodas would have to be placed farthest from eye level or in the lowest-selling position.

Hospitals would also be prohibited from providing sugar-sweetened beverages as part of patients' meals unless necessary for therapeutic purposes.

One can see a certain logic to Cheh's bill; hospitals are institutions of healing, so they shouldn't be selling food that contributes to poor health.

The most immediate objection is that it's really none of the D.C. government's business how hospitals stock their vending machines or organize their cafeteria menus.

More practically, it seems unlikely that tighter regulations of hospital menus will do much to improve patient health. People typically (and hopefully) aren't in hospitals for very long, so any health gains they reap from cutting out hot dogs will be pretty fleeting. People that are in hospitals for extended periods of time probably have a more serious condition that won't be fixed by drinking fewer Cokes.

There's also an unintentional cruelty to Cheh's bill: Hospitals don't have a reputation as fun places for a reason. If you're a hospital patient, something is probably seriously wrong with you. If you're a visitor, there's probably something seriously wrong with someone you care about.

People in physically and emotionally taxing circumstances could probably use some comfort. Ready access to a side of bacon could provide that comfort, even if it's not exactly the meal the surgeon general would recommend. And people dying of cancer should probably get to pick their own beverage of choice, even when not strictly "therapeutically necessary."