Major Clampdown Planned on Obesity in the NHS

obesityWith almost 700,000 of 1.3 million NHS staff being overweight or obese, this means more than half of them have a body mass index of 25 or over.

Therefore, officials have realised drastic action needs to be taken to curtail an increasing problem that looks to sweep across the health service.

One of the first things that could go is sugar. The NHS is contemplating forbidding the sale of all sugary drinks – which would include lattes, smoothies and fruit juices. They believe this will help to curb obesity and make healthcare workers “practice what they preach”.

Alternatively, the health service is also arguing that that vendors should be force to pay a levy in order to be able to sell such drinks on NHS premises. The levy would come into force in 2017 and would be an additional scheme to the Government’s plan to introduce a new tax onto the soft drinks industry.

Taxes put onto vendors would mean they would be paying a 25p levy on each drink, or fees equivalent to 20% of all sales.

A spokeswoman says the levy would cover the “full range” of sugar sweetened drinks including fruit juices, sweetened milk-based drinks and sweetened coffees, with proceeds then being used for extending staff health and wellbeing programmes.

NHS England believe that increasing weight problems within their staff is not just bad for their own health, but will negatively impact their ability to give credible advice to patients.

Chief executive Simon Stevens said the organisation was “calling time on hospitals as marketing outlets for junk food and fizzy drinks”.

Mr Stevens, who is to announce the details of the document at the ukactive conference in London, said: “Confronted by rising obesity, type 2 diabetes and child dental decay, it’s time for the NHS to practice what we preach.

“Nurses, visitors and patients all tell us they increasingly want healthy, tasty and affordable food and drink options.

“So like a number of other countries we’re now calling time on hospitals as marketing outlets for junk food and fizzy drinks.”

Mr Stevens spoke about the proposed levy to vendors, saying: “By ploughing the proceeds of any vendor fees back into staff health and patient charities these proposals are a genuine win/win opportunity to both improve health and cut future illness cost burdens for the NHS.”

A consultation on the proposals was launched this week, which will either see all sugary drinks banned from hospitals, or face heavy taxes. The consultation is due to close on January 18, and follows the conclusion of a pilot scheme in one organisation which reported that even though there were no sugary drinks being sold during the trial, the overall number of drinks sold did not decrease and there were no financial repercussions.

Commenting on the consultation, ukactive executive director Steven Ward, said: “With the health service under unprecedented strain, we must urgently shift priorities towards prevention over cure to save the NHS from bankruptcy.

“Promoting the benefits of physical activity and a balanced diet to the NHS workforce is a major step forward.

“GP practices alone receive 300 million visits each year, so a fighting fit NHS will be better-placed to cascade these healthy habits to the wider population.”

Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said: “It’s a brilliant move particularly since it stems from the staff’s own ‘good ideas ‘ box.

“They know full well the ravages caused by sugary drinks on a patient’s health.

“Laudably, Mr Stevens is not preventing the workers taking a drink in with them on shift – but I bet they don’t. The trials have shown have shown that visitors and staff alike are happy with the healthier alternatives.”

Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: “It’s hard to see how a ban on soft drinks can be justified given that the sector has led the way in reducing consumers’ sugar intake – down by over 17% since 2012.

“In 2015 we also became the only category to set a calorie reduction target of 20% by 2020.

“Given that the Government is looking to introduce a soft drinks tax in 2018 it seems slightly odd that another public body wishes to duplicate this process.”

Sarah Toule, head of health information at the World Cancer Research Fund, added: “NHS England has shown real leadership in tackling obesity in hospitals.

“Being overweight or obese can lead to a number of serious health conditions including cancer. In fact, around 25,000 cancers cases could be prevented every year in the UK if everyone was a healthy weight.

“This bold move will help reduce the number of people who are an unhealthy weight.”

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