A 250 calorie limit on confectionary sold in hospital canteens, stores, vending machines and other outlets in England has been announced by Simon Stevens, NHS England's chief executive.
" 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," he says.
"In place of calorie-laden, sugary snacks we want to make healthier food an easy option for hospital staff, patients and visitors."
Nearly 700,000 of the NHS's 1.3 million staff are estimated to be overweight or obese.
Sugary drinks and unhealthy sandwiches
In April, NHS England announced that some leading retailers had agreed that no more than 10% of their soft drink sales would be high in sugar. The health body warned that retailers who refused to comply would face a total ban on sugary drink sales on NHS premises.
Health services are being offered financial rewards if they comply with the rules, which also target unhealthy sandwiches and drinks. Targets for 2018-19 include:
80% of confectionery and sweets stocked to not exceed 250 calories
75% of pre-packed sandwiches and other savoury pre-packed meals to contain 400 calories or less per serving and to not exceed 5g of saturated fat per 100g
80% of drinks to have less than 5g of added sugar per 100ml
The Royal Voluntary Service, which runs shops, cafes and on-ward trolley services, says it supports the new requirements.
"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%," says Andrew Roberts, the Service's business enterprise manager.
Tackling the obesity problem
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, says in a statement: "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."
Helen Dickens from Diabetes UK is welcoming the new rules. "It’s great to see the NHS taking steps to help make it easy as possible for us all to make healthier choices – particularly for those in hospital – and in doing so reduce our risk of type 2 diabetes, a serious health condition that can lead to devastating and costly [complications] such as blindness, amputation and stroke," she says.
"However, 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. We need to act now for the sake of our nation’s health."
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