Why menu diversity matters in boosting healthcare inclusivity, equity

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A range of food is important to achieve a strong healthcare system for diverse patients, according to Minakshi Raj, PhD, assistant professor of kinesiology and community health at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Dr. Raj made this argument in an article published Oct. 7 in The Conversation, a nonprofit news organization.

She said hospitals and health systems consistently focus on taste preferences, allergy-related needs and nutritional quality when it comes to food. However, she contends these organizations don't always offer culturally inclusive options, which could alienate certain patients.

"The [family] caregivers I interviewed [for an ongoing study of older Asian immigrants from multiple ethnic communities] believed that the healthcare system wouldn't be able to accommodate their relatives' needs and felt resigned that it would not change," wrote Dr. Raj. "As one caregiver said, 'I would say that the hospitals need a lot more work. My mom is quite religious and also has diet restrictions. When she went to the hospital, all those days, most of the time she was not eating at all.'"

But Dr. Raj said her research shows healthcare facilities can support mental well-being and promote joy among older adults by offering culturally inclusive foods that are in line with their cultural or religious preferences. She said offering culturally inclusive food may also play a key role in helping patients feel respected.

Still, she acknowledged that achieving an inclusive and equitable healthcare system "requires a concerted and long-term effort. In a healthcare environment where every penny is pinched, it might be hard for facilities to come up with multiple choices at mealtime. It requires revisiting regulations around dietary quality in healthcare facilities and ensuring cultural sensitivity among care providers and staff. It also requires facilities to have the human resources, funding, knowledge and support to ensure these efforts can be sustained."

Read her full article here.

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