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NHS Leads the Charge on Vending Machines

Posted by: Patrick Catanzariti on February 9, 2016

With government slow to make up their minds about a sugar tax, it seems that public bodies are beginning to make their own decisions. News that the NHS will impose a sugar tax in hospital shops is welcome news to anti-obesity campaigners. And, it will put a lot more pressure on the government to follow suit.

Hospitals all across the country will charge more for sugary foods from vending machines. It is hoped that these prices rises will lower the rate of staff, patients and visitors who use them. The plans will begin to roll out to hundreds of mental health and community hospitals by 2020. When asked why they don’t completely remove the vending machines or replace their contents with healthy alternatives, the NHS have advised that the move will generate an extra £20-40 million every year – money that will get redirected into helping NHS staff stay healthy.

In an interview with the Guardian, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has advised that the aim is not just to underline the NHS responsibility for better patient care but also to “draw attention to and make the case for some of the wider changes that will actually improve the health of this country.”

The plans will also target the many catering companies that work fro trusts up and down the country. According to Stevens, there will be enforcements put into place when contract renewals and tending are in progress.

Startlingly, Stevens has revealed that poor diet has overtaken smoking as the nation’s biggest health risk. There are bigger targets, of course. The NHS plan will only go so far to halting the obesity crisis, and Stevens is adamant that they should show a good example. The chief executive has also placed blame on retailers, advising that they should stop deals such as 2-for-1 on sugar-based snacks. And, that they should also remove them from the areas where people queue to pay. Stevens advised that the impact is considerable in causing the growth of “dangerously expanding waistlines” which signify “two-thirds of Britons are now overweight or obese.”

Unsurprisingly, Stevens has backed the proposed tax on sugary food products, although doesn’t suggest what that amount might be. Other campaigners and medical health groups suggest 20%, but the NHS boss has yet to comment on the finer details.

Despite the many problems facing health campaigners seeking to reduce the volume of added sugar in supermarket foods, there is every hope that a solution can be put in place. As Stevens explained, the effort to reduce salt in food has been a roaring success. “We’ve taken out 15% of added salt from our food over the course of the last decade”. “We need to…hold the food industry to account for that with regulatory action to guarantee that … [it happens in] … a matter of several years.”

Whether or not the efforts of the NHS will resonate with staff, patients and visitors, will remain to be seen.

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