English hospitals given 250-calorie limit on confectionery

By Nichola Murphy
Thursday, 19 October, 2017

Rising obesity rates are increasing awareness about preventative measures, especially in hospital environments. NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens has announced a 250-calorie limit will be imposed on confectionery sold in hospital canteens, stores, vending machines and other outlets.

With shops and canteens often selling convenient, sugary and unhealthy food such as prepackaged sandwiches, patients, visitors and even staff are at higher risk of health issues such as obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. Hospitals have been ordered to remove super-sized ‘grab bags’ of unhealthy snacks and chocolate bars off the shelves, over fears that these larger portions encourage individuals to consume more than their recommended daily allowance of sugar.

Instead, Stevens suggested they aim to promote healthier alternatives, stating: “In place of calorie-laden, sugary snacks, we want to make healthier food an easy option for hospital staff, patients and visitors.”

The new restriction dictates that at least 80% of stocked items in hospitals should not exceed the 250-calorie limit. The focus also extends to sugary drinks, which consumers are less likely to associate with poor nutrition and obesity. Therefore, 80% of drinks lines must contain less than 5 g of added sugar per 100 mL. Health services that implement these restrictions in 2018/19 will receive financial incentives.

“Hospitals have an important role in addressing obesity — not just treating those suffering the consequences, but helping to prevent it in the first place. Any plans to offer healthier food are a positive step towards tackling the country’s obesity problem,” explained Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England.

While many stores used to capitalise on ‘impulse buys’ at the checkouts, action has already been taken to remove these unhealthy foods and drinks to prevent temptation. Price promotions have also been slashed, and unhealthy foods are no longer advertised on NHS premises.

One particular group of people at risk of falling victim to these sugary food promotions is NHS staff working night shifts — they often struggle to find healthy food and opt for convenience. As a result, it is predicted that about 700,000 NHS employees out of 1.3 million are overweight or obese.

In April, NHS England announced that leading retailers such as WH Smith, Marks & Spencer, Greggs, SUBWAY, Medirest, ISS and the Royal Voluntary Service have agreed to decrease their sales of sugary drinks to 10% or less of their total drinks sales within hospitals over the next year.

Andrew Roberts, business enterprise manager for Royal Voluntary Service, said: “Our shops, cafes and on-ward trolley services in England and Wales meet the current CQUIN requirements and we welcome the decision of NHS England to put these new measurements in place.

“We took an early lead on the NHS workforce healthy agenda by introducing our Healthier Choices program and it is already having a significant effect on consumer behaviour. In the first quarter of 2017, year-on-year sales of fruit increased by 25%, healthier chilled snacks like salad and sushi by 55% and healthier sweet and savoury snacks like popcorn and dried fruit by 109%.

“We will be implementing these new guidelines and are hopeful that they will result in healthier food being a more consistent feature in all hospital retailers.”

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