Using a verbal prompt to increase protein consumption in a hospital setting: a field study

Sufficient protein intake among hospitalized patients may contribute to faster recovery and a decrease in healthcare costs. Nevertheless, hospitalized patients are often found to consume too little protein. This field study explored the success of a small, inexpensive intervention adapted from the marketing literature, to encourage protein consumption among hospitalized patients.
The study was performed at a hospital where patients order food by calling to the meal service. The intervention consisted of a verbal prompt: “Would you like some [target product] with that?”, which was presented to patients by trained telephone operators, after patients finished ordering their lunch. Target products were two foods rich in protein; fruit quark and yoghurt drink. For half of the patients, the verbal prompt was preceded by verbal praise on their lunch order, which was aimed to increase compliance with the verbal prompt.
Three hundred and fifteen hospitalized patients, aged 18–87 years took part in the study. Verbal prompts significantly increased ordering of the target products nearly sevenfold (from ordering by 6.5 % of patients to 45.2 % of patients). Protein content of ordered lunch and all food orders of the day combined showed a trend, with orders of patients receiving only a verbal prompt or a verbal prompt and verbal praise containing a larger amount of protein than lunch orders of patients in the control condition. At an individual level, protein content of ordered food increased significantly, reaching the 25–30 g of protein per main meal recommended by dieticians of the hospital. Verbal praise did not increase compliance with the verbal prompt. Patients consumed most or all of the target product and verbal prompts were not perceived to be obtrusive.
Although changing eating patterns is challenging, this study shows that simple interventions such as verbal prompts may be useful tools for health professionals to stimulate healthy food consumption among patients during hospitalization.

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