Super-sized chocolate bars to be driven out of hospitals to tackle obesity

Laura Donnelly
Simon Stevens said calorie-laden snacks should not be the easy option  - PA

Super-sized chocolate bars will be driven out of hospital shops and canteens under new targets to tackle obesity, the head of NHS England has pledged.

Hospitals will receive extra funding if they limit most sweets and chocolates on sale to a maximum of 250 calories, under the plans.

Simon Stevens said there was a need to fight the "super-size snack culture" as he set the new rules for sweets and chocolate sold in hospital canteens, shops and vending machines.

This means that most larger packs of chocolate and "grab bags" of sweets will be taken off the shelves.

The Royal Voluntary Service - the biggest hospital retailer across the UK - said that by introducing such schemes early, it had boosted sales of sushi and salad by 55 per cent, with fruit sales up by one quarter.

From next April, hospitals will be able to receive a share of a £150m “health and wellbeing” fund if they achieve new targets.

Under the rules, 80 per cent of sweets and chocolates on sale must contain 250 calories or less, and 80 per cent of sugary drinks must have less than 5g of added sugar per 100ml.

All food and drink sold in cafes, canteens, shops, kiosks and vending machines fall under the rules, which are an attempt to tackle obesity among NHS staff, and among the wider public.

Almost 700,000 NHS employees out of 1.3 million are thought to be overweight or obese, along with two in three adults in the general public.

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The rules cover hot drinks - such as sweet coffees and sugary milk drinks, as well as fruit juices containing extra sugar.

Mr Stevens said: "The NHS is now stepping up action to combat the super-size snack culture which is causing an epidemic of obesity, preventable diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease and cancer.

"In place of calorie-laden, sugary snacks we want to make healthier food an easy option for hospital staff, patients and visitors."

The targets also cover savoury foods, and the NHS has been told not to promote sugary and fatty or salty foods at checkouts.

It has ruled that 75 per cent of pre-packed sandwiches and other savoury pre-packed meals must be 400 calories or less, and must not exceed 5g of saturated fat per 100g.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: "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."

Andrew Roberts, business enterprise manager for Royal Voluntary Service, said that in the first quarter of 2017 its outlets had seen year-on-year sales of fruit increase by 25 per cent, healthier chilled snacks like salad and sushi by 55 per cent and healthier sweet and savoury snacks like popcorn and dried fruit by 109 cent.

He added: "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."

NHS trusts receive a share of a £150m health and wellbeing fund if they meet targets to introduce healthy food, hit flu vaccination targets and reduce levels of and staff sickness.

Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said the measures were welcome, with a 250kcal chocolate bar is “quite sufficient snack for anybody”.

But he suggested the NHS should introduce “more draconian measures” if levels of obesity continue to rise, banning all sugary foods with more than 250 calories, rather than 80 per cent of them. And he said a complete ban on products with added sugar should be considered for hospital inpatients.

“Sugar is the new tobacco: ban it,” he said.

Helen Dickens, from Diabetes UK, welcomed the moves, which she said would make it easier for everyone to make healthier choices, especially while in hospital.

But she called on the Government to go further.

“This is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to tackling obesity. We need to go much further, which is why we are also calling for the Government to toughen restrictions on junk food marketing to children, end price promotions on unhealthy foods and introduce mandatory front of pack food labelling,” she said.

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