NHS action on sugar pays dividends as hospitals slash unhealthy food and drink sales

NHS England action is delivering effective results in the battle against the bulge with a sharp decline in the sales of sugary snacks and drinks and hundreds of millions fewer calories consumed.

With the sugar tax looming, the NHS has been leading the way with chief executive Simon Stevens ordering hospitals and suppliers to dramatically cut the sale of sugar-filled fizzy drinks or face an outright ban later this year.

So far 152 of 232 NHS trusts have signed up to the scheme to reduce sales of “SSBs” – sugar sweetened beverages.

And new figures show that curbing the sale of chocolate and unhealthy sandwiches means hospital staff, patients and their friends and family have consumed 632 million fewer calories over the last year.

Last year NHS England ordered hospitals to take super-size chocolate bars and “grab bags” of sugary snacks off of the shelves. While data is still being collected, some of the headline results from several of the suppliers involved so far include:

  • A large hospital retailer removed advertising and promotions on NHS estates and has sold over 1.1 million fewer single chocolate bars in the last year, and removed 275,000 (23 per cent) large bars of chocolate.
  •  The removal of 1.1 million single chocolate bars equates to 264 million fewer calories, while the reduction in the number of large chocolate bars is equal to 161 million fewer calories – when combined this means almost 425 million calories have been removed by this retailer alone.
  • An additional 175,000 pieces of fruit have been sold in hospital stores.
  • The Royal Voluntary Service has worked with suppliers to make healthier sandwiches, that now account for more than half of the total sales.
  • Compass Group has revealed a further 132 million calories have been removed from the top five sandwich products sold in hospitals.
  • The Royal Voluntary Service has changed their range of sandwiches to reduce calorie intake by over 75 million calories a year.
  • Retailers including Royal Voluntary Services, WH Smith and M&S are running a healthy meal deal exclusively in hospitals, with no sandwiches over 400 calories and no unhealthy snacks.
  • Costa has removed the large size (Massimo) from their seasonal and more indulgent drinks in hospital stores, and a cream topping is now an optional extra rather than standard.

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England said: “We now know that obesity causes 13 different types of cancer as well as heart attacks and strokes, so the NHS has needed to get its own house in order on the epidemic of flab. Once the Easter eggs are gone, the NHS will be getting on with ensuring our hospitals and their retailers are offering healthier food and drinks for patients, relatives and staff.”

Diabetes and its complications cost over £6 billion every year to treat and one in six patients in hospital has diabetes, while a staggering 525,000 admissions in NHS hospitals were linked to obesity – up nearly 20 per cent from the previous year.

The statistics highlight the stark scale of the country’s obesity epidemic, which is adding to the pressure facing hospitals and frontline staff. Around nine out of 10 people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes which is closely linked to obesity and there is strong evidence that it is preventable.

Professor Jonathan Valabhji, National Clinical Director for Diabetes and Obesity, at NHS England said: “We have been clear that the growing obesity crisis sweeping the country is a public health crisis and the evidence backs it up. Obesity is associated with heart attacks, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and a number of other illnesses – causing personal suffering and costing the health service and in turn the taxpayer, billions every year. And for all of those conditions, wherever possible, prevention is preferable to cure. Our own sugar restrictions, the new sugar tax and the NHS diabetes prevention programme are all part of what needs to be a concerted effort to address obesity.”