Idea for the Obesity prevention Code-A-Thon: a healthier meeting revolution

When you take the time to be mindful – View on

How does it feel when you are at an all day or multi-day event either as an attendee or staff, and you feel trapped by the food choices that are provided for you? Oh, I just gave away the answer. It doesn’t feel good. The recent Weight of the Nation documentary showed that this is actually dangerous, because in situations like these where we are not in normal environment and/or working long hours, stress hormones go up, and disregard for caloric quality goes down. Is there a way out? I found out, there is. Read on….

I have been meaning to write this post since about January, but really since about 2010, when I learned that we can stop this. I alluded to this first in a post on healthy food in health care (see: #greenhealthcare Part 3: Better food in health care makes a difference | Ted Eytan, MD ).

I’m giving it its own post now because the Obesity prevention code-a-thon is just 2 short days away (are you coming?). 

I learned when shadowing event planners, and a specifically gastronomically tuned one at Kaiser Permanente, Kimberly Stansell, who showed me how she works with hotel chefs and caterers to change their default menus to menus that are healthy. The most important finding is that is is possible to work with them to change menus – it isn’t “what you see is what you get.” 

I first picked up on this because I noticed a qualitative difference in the type, quality, and healthiness of food at events planned by Kaiser Permanente staff. I actually heard a rumor that there was a “Thrive” menu that venues in and around Kaiser Permanente facilities were using to cater events, and that this menu was actually being requested by other organizations for their events, too.

I found out from watching Kimberly, that there is definitely pre-work involved, there is definitely a dialogue involved, and it is definitely important to make it known that people want healthier choices. As I learned at the Bipartisan Policy Center in February, it is not that the hospitality industry doesn’t want guests to be healthy, it is that they don’t know what guests want. This is where a knowledgeable event planner with the right tools changes the course of health history, for a lot of people.

I found out there is no “Thrive” menu, per se, but there is a helpful, publicly available healthy meeting guide that’s designed for meeting planners, and it’s here: Do-it-yourself programs – Workforce health | Kaiser Permanente BusinessNet California.

In it is a healthy meetings checklist, a nutritional meeting guide, even a sample e-mail that you can send to meeting planners to take advantage of this resource (here’s the direct link to that).

Materials are one thing, leadership is another

The development and availability of these tools was announced back in 2011. What I am emphasizing here is the difference it makes for a meeting planner to visit with a chef or a caterer before an event, empowered and informed by data and the desire to keep people healthy. I have seen how Kimberly attends to this work with extreme care, because she is caring for hundreds of people when she does what she does. I would say what she does on is as valuable to a group of people as having an AED in the facility, if not more, because she’s helping prevent the need for the AED in the first place.

Is there an app for that? I’m not sure. Could a mobile accessible healthy meeting planner be created? Would it be standalone or would it be part of a caterer/hospitality venue’s mobile offering? An app can’t replace leadership, but it can certainly enable it. There are a ton of other ideas for this week’s Code-a-Thon that people posted on the Massive Health + Massive Ideas for Health Innovation – feel free to bring those, too.

Take a look at some of the tasty and healthy bites at the January, 2012, Care Innovations Summit, don’t they lower your stress level?

That URL again is… Welcome to Kaiser Permanente BusinessNet California – Healthy Meetings

And it’s true, I do like to photograph food. Don’t hold it against me. With thanks to Kimberly and the experts at Kaiser Permanente HealthWorks Exercise and Nutrition for taking the time to teach me.


Ted Eytan, MD