Hospital patients with a poor appetite say they are not hungry. However, when they are offered specific dishes, or when a patient meal host asks what they would like to eat, the patients’ appetites appear to impove. (Photo: Colourbox)
Hospital patients with a poor appetite say they are not hungry. However, when they are offered specific dishes, or when a patient meal host asks what they would like to eat, the patients’ appetites appear to impove. (Photo: Colourbox)

Meal hosts awaken patients’ appetite

A small research project has shown that hospital patients eat more and food waste is reduced when so-called patient meal hosts are used.

Published

Many of us lose our appetite when we fall ill. For a third of Denmark’s hospital patients, this lack of appetite means that they are malnourished or risk becoming malnourished during their hospital stay.

A recent research project has, however, managed to get the patients to eat more.

Over an eight-week period, five nutrition assistants at Herlev Hospital, Copenhagen, were given new job titles: patient meal hosts.

”Their job was to persuade the patients to eat during meals and to find out what their needs were – whether there were any particular foods that they preferred to eat, despite their lack of appetite,” says Lise Søgaard Slot Lund, a PhD student at Copenhagen’s Metropolitan University College, who conducted the study in collaboration with Herlev Hospital.

Patients’ appetites improved

Their job was to persuade the patients to eat during meals and to find out what their needs were – whether there were any particular foods that they preferred to eat, despite their lack of appetite.

Lise Søgaard Slot Lund

The problem in hospitals, she argues, is that there is not enough staff to take proper care of the patients’ meals. This means that the patients are only rarely asked which foods they prefer to eat.

”The patient meal hosts were surprised to see how often food was placed in front of the patients without the nurses asking them what they actually liked,” says Lund, adding that using patient meal hosts added a long-overdue focus on the patients’ individual needs.

Results after the eight weeks:

  • The patients ate more
  • Less food was thrown out
  • Less food was ordered from the kitchen

The researcher carried out 32 qualitative interviews with patient meal hosts, nurses, health care workers and individual patients. The interviews were conducted before, during and after the eight-week period with patient meal hosts.

Thumbs up from hospital staff

According to Lund, both medical staff and the patient meal hosts had positive experiences with this arrangement.

The nurses and health care workers could leave work with a clearer conscience, and the patient meal hosts felt that their job gave them a sense of accomplishment.

At the same time, the project improved the cooperation between diet professionals and other staff at the hospital wards, and that has contributed to the overall positive results.

”Unlike the nurses, the patient meal hosts know what is available in the hospital kitchens and what the kitchens can do to cater for patients with a poor appetite,” says Lund.

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Read the Danish version of this article at videnskab.dk

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