Hungry in hospital, well-fed in prison? A comparative analysis of food service systems

Nick Johns, Walden University
John Edwards
Heather Hartwell


Meals served in prisons and hospitals are produced in similar ways and have similar characteristics, yet hospital patients are often at risk of being undernourished, while prisoners typically are not. This article examines field notes collected during nutritional studies of prison and hospital food service, which confirmed the difference in nutrient intake claimed by other authors. A comparison of food service processes and systems showed that the production of meals and the quality leaving the kitchen was similar in both types of institution. However, the delivery and service system was found to be much less coherent in hospital than in prison. Transport and service of hospital food were subject to delays and disruptions from a number of sources, including poor communication and the demands of medical professionals. These meant that meals reached hospital patients in a poorer, less appetizing condition than those received by prisoners. The findings are discussed in the light of previous work and in terms of hospital food service practice.