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Emergency Room Visitors Prefer Junk Food, Hospital CEO Says

By Janet Upadhye | September 19, 2012 6:43am

FORT GREENE — The head of a private Brooklyn hospital defended his junk-food filled emergency room vending machines, saying people prefer it to healthy snacks when they're in the middle of a crisis.

Brooklyn Hospital Center President and CEO Richard B. Becker made the assertion at a Community Board 2 meeting, saying he had no reason to swap out the sugar and fat-filled goodiesfor something more nutritious.

"We are not responsible for what people eat," he said. "They make their own choices.”

He added that in "times of crisis," most people prefer something "delicious" like junk food.

Becker made the comments earlier this month in response to Brooklyn resident Joe Gonzales, who said he made a recent trip to the hospital.

"I saw five vending machines in the ER waiting room.," he said.

"All of them were filled with junk food and drinks. None of them had healthy alternatives."

In a visit to the hospital, DNAinfo New York found that the five fully-stocked vending machines in the ER took up the entire length of one wall. Selections included two machines devoted to sugary drinks ranging from Hawaiian Punch, to Lipton Iced Tea, to Fanta.

Another machine sold ice cream — with Good Humor ice cream sandwiches, popsicles, and other treats. Another vending machine sold chips, cookies and candy bars — including Dipsy Doodles, Kit Kat bars, M&Ms and other treats.

Another machine sold hot coffee.

Becker later added, "The Brooklyn Hospital Center advocates healthy living in many ways."

His response came as a surprise to some, especially at a time when junk food is a hot topic in New York City.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's trans-fat and smoking bans were joined by a ban on oversized soda drinks. The Department of Health offered promotions to get people to use their food stamps at farmers' markets, and a new pilot program is in the works in the Bronx called Shop Healthy NYC that asks bodegas to stock their shelves with more produce and vegetables and cut down on the chips.

“I am appalled that the medical community didn’t want to take a greater lead in providing healthy food,” Gonzales said after the meeting.

Karen Goldman, an associate professor at Long Island University Brooklyn’s School of Public Health, who also attended the meeting, thinks her students can do better and promised to compile a list of healthy alternatives.

Goldman said she plans to present Becker with a list of all the healthy foods that can replace junk food in the vending machines after the research has been completed.

“LIU Brooklyn and Brooklyn Hospital have a wonderful partnership and I saw this as an irresistible public health challenge that I felt comfortable raising because of our long standing relationship,” she said.

“It’s also a great learning opportunity for the students about advocacy, communicating with powerful decision-makers, research and strategizing.”

Becker did not immediately return a call for comment.