December 20, 2014

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After lawsuit, prisons start serving healthier foods

COLUMBUS — State prisons have begun serving inmates healthier foods since a lawsuit was filed alleging inadequate medical care in the corrections system.

The new menu was introduced last month to the 50,000 inmates in Ohio’s 32 prisons. Two percent milk was replaced by 1 percent milk. Margarine and salt are now scarce, and inmates are being served less bread and starchy foods and more fruits and vegetables.

The menu was adjusted to follow the spirit of a settlement involving a 2003 class-action lawsuit over medical care.

Prisons director Terry Collins said the menu changes follow nutritional guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the heart and diabetes associations. Male inmates are allowed 2,500 calories a day; women get 2,200.

“It’s a benefit to the inmates and their health, and a benefit to us, too,” Collins said of the heart-healthy regimen. “It will encourage positive lifestyle changes.”

It could ultimately reduce the state’s cost of medical care and prescription drugs, he added.

Collins also encouraged inmates to lose weight and issued a challenge, modeled after the popular TV show “The Biggest Loser,” among prisons statewide. The focus is on prisons, not individuals.

A total of 1,276 inmates participated in the weight-loss challenge — 866 men and 410 women — and they lost a total of 5,280 pounds.

Prisoners at the Trumbull Correctional Institution in Leavittsburg lost the most weight, 595 pounds, and the women’s Franklin Pre-Release Center, had the most participants, 89.

The winning institutions will be allowed to use the proceeds from commissary sales to buy additional recreational equipment.

Collins said some prisoners have complained about the menu changes, but others told him they like getting more vegetables and fruit.

Prison officials also hoped to change inmates’ eating habits by adding healthy snacks at the prison commissaries.

But that hasn’t worked. Candy, pastries and other sweets remain the most popular items, Collins said.