Hospital vending machines found to be loaded with junk food
13th August 2013
hospitalA cancer charity as hit out at hospitals across England for allowing patients free access to unhealthy and high calorie snacks. World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) have conducted a survey that shows 73% of English health trusts are lacking any kind of policy to monitor what type of food is being offered in their vending machines. This means all patients, in addition to staff and visitors, can pick and choose whatever chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks they please. The WCRF’s criticism stems from the fact that there are no national guidelines on the health content of food and drink sold in hospital vending machines in England, unlike the machines in Scotland and Wales which have to include a minimum of 30% healthier choice options for food and drink products. This has been the case since 2008 when both countries introduced their own guidelines, and the WCRF say England has fallen ‘woefully’ behind. The WCRF’s survey included each acute hospital trust – all 146 of them in England – and asked questions regarding their stance on vending machines and if any policies were in place. Perhaps tellingly, only 110 of the 146 bothered to respond and 81 admitted no such policies were in existence. Shockingly, only 11 of the trusts claimed they did have a vending machine policy and 18 said a policy was currently ‘in development’. In total, over half (58%) of hospitals said their vending machines did not have 30% healthy products, however 67% said they offered at least one healthier option for each type of product in their machines. Amanda McLean, general manager at the WCRF, said chocolate bars, crisps and sugary soft drinks were not suitable things to be stocking inside hospital vending machines. “Because there is strong evidence that these foods cause obesity - a risk factor in diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease - they are partly to blame for many people ending up in hospital in the first place,” she said. “Hospitals should put an end to vending machines that sell only high calorie food and drink. They should be beacons of good health in our communities and encourage and support people in making healthier choices about the food they eat.” It was back in June at the British Medical Association's (BMA) conference when doctors spoke of their belief that hospitals should prohibit the sale of junk food in their vending machines and cafes. The BMA's science board is now assessing the issue before urging the Department of Health to introduce guidelines for every hospital in the country. The  Department of Health themselves released a statement via a spokeswoman, who said: “Hospitals in England have a clear responsibility to promote healthier choices in vending machines so staff and visitors can eat good quality food. We know that some hospitals have already signed up to our Responsibility Deal and committed to making healthier food and drink available, and would encourage other hospitals to do the same and look after their staff, patients and visitors.”