NHS targets super-sized chocolate bars in battle against obesity, diabetes and tooth-decay

Hospitals have been ordered to take super-size chocolate bars and “grab bags” of sugary snacks off of the shelves in the latest step of the NHS plan to fight obesity, diabetes and tooth-decay.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has announced a 250 calorie limit on confectionary sold in hospital canteens, stores, vending machines and other outlets.

Hospital chiefs will have to ensure that four out of five items purchased on their premises do not bust the limit, which is an eighth of a woman’s and a tenth of a man’s recommended daily intake, or lose out on funding ring-fenced for improving the health of staff, patients and their visitors.

Unhealthy sandwiches and drinks are also being targeted as the NHS, Europe’s largest employer, takes a lead in tackling the availability of unhealthy food and drinks that are fuelling an obesity crisis.

Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, 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.”

Action has already been taken to remove price promotions and stop sales at checkouts on sugary drinks and foods high in fat, sugar or salt; end advertisements of these foods on NHS premises; and ensure healthy food options are available at all times, including for those people working night shifts.

In April NHS England announced that leading retailers  – WH Smith, Marks & Spencer, Greggs, the SUBWAY(r) brand, Medirest, ISS and the Royal Voluntary Service – have agreed to continue voluntarily reducing sales of sugary drinks to 10 per cent or less of their total drinks sales within hospitals over the coming year.

In 2018/19 health services will get financial incentives if they make further efforts, currently including:

  • 80 per cent of confectionery and sweets stocked do not exceed 250 kcal.
  • 75 per cent of pre-packed sandwiches and other savoury pre-packed meals to contain 400 kcal or less per serving and do not exceed five grams of saturated fat per 100g.
  • 80 per cent of drinks line stocked must have less than 5g of added sugar per 100ml.

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: “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 programme 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.”