Tackling the other side of hospital food...

We hear a huge amount about hospital food in the media; the food served to those staying as inpatients on wards. But we hear much less about the other side of food in hospitals; the food that is on sale for the hundreds of NHS staff and visitors that fill the hospitals each day and spend a small fortune on food.

This is an area that I feel strongly about, so I welcomed the news this week that there will hopefully be restrictions and guidelines placed upon the food stocked in hospital food outlets. Having worked in various hospitals for over 10 years and, more recently, having had a fair amount of inpatient experience with my youngest girl, I have experienced first hand the frustrations of trying to find healthy quick options.  

Hospitals have a responsibility to foster a healthy environment for all within.  Looking after the health of their employees and the visitors who are caring for inpatients by providing good quality, nutritious and affordable food for all is crucial.

Granted, many hospitals now offer salad bars, jacket potatoes and a couple of healthy cooked options in the canteens, but if you can’t get to the canteen or don’t want to go to the canteen, you become reliant on vending machines, hospital coffee shops and, increasingly, the small stores like WHSmith, RVS shops, Costa and M&S that are popping up in hospital lobby areas.

How do we tackle this? 

Hospitals are being called to make changes that will see them playing a role in tackling the causes of obesity and not simply dealing with the consequences. These changes include reducing the amount of sugary drinks on sale, stopping or reducing the sales of large "grab bag"/"super size" style snacks and offering sandwiches that come in under 400kcal per serving. These are small, simple changes that I believe could really help to tackle the "mindless" and often "accidental" overeating - for example, grabbing a large "sharing" bag of crisps because that is what is on offer and, without really thinking, finishing it on your own, or picking a sandwich without really looking at the nutritional breakdown (let’s face it, not many of us do) and ending up with an 800kcal lunch.

You didn’t necessarily want a huge bag of crisps, but how many of us close and seal larger sharing bags after having eaten our 1/3? Not many I’d say!

All of these are not a problem once in a while, but if this is your place of work and you end up doing this regularly, whether through habit or lack of alternative options, it could, over time, become a problem for your health.

The proposed changes are about creating an environment that is conducive to helping people make great nutrition choices; making it easy to eat well, maintain a healthy weight and starting to re-normalise small individual bags of crisps and lower calorie lunches.  
This won’t solve any major health problems on its own, but it represents a small step in the right direction. I would love to see more in the way of healthy vending machines, thick, nutritious, warming soups to take away and a cheap plentiful supply of fresh fruit taking centre stage. 

Hospitals should be a hub of wellness, and I believe they should be setting an example of how powerful a good diet can be in terms of health. Valuing our amazing NHS staff, ensuring that they are well nourished, and also offering great nutritious choices to those who are visiting loved ones on the wards is common sense.

Lets hope that these changes mark the start of something much bigger; gradually altering the environment to make it easier for us all to make better food and health choices.