Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said hospitals will remove larger packs of tempting treats from shops, canteens and vending machines, with the remainder of sweets and chocolate containing under 250 calories.
“In place of calorie-laden, sugary snacks we want to make healthier food an easy option for hospital staff, patients and visitors.”
There’s no denying obesity is a major problem here in the UK. In 2014, 58% of women and 65% of men in England were classed as overweight or obese, according to statistics from NHS Digital. Meanwhile nearly 700,000 of the NHS’s 1.3 million staff are estimated to be overweight or obese.
As part of the new action plan, hospital chiefs will have to ensure that four out of five items purchased on their premises do not exceed the 250 calorie limit, which is an eighth of a woman’s and a tenth of a man’s recommended daily intake.
The move will see pre-packed meals and sandwiches sold in hospitals containing no more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g and 75% of pre-packed sandwiches containing fewer than 400 calories.
Meanwhile 80% of drinks stocked should contain less than 5g of added sugar per 100ml.
Health services will get financial incentives if they adhere to these rules.
Action has already been taken to remove price promotions and stop sales at checkouts on sugary drinks and foods high in fat, sugar or salt; end advertisements of these foods on NHS premises; and ensure healthy food options are available at all times, including for those working night shifts.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “Hospitals have an important role in addressing obesity - not just treating those suffering the consequences, but helping to prevent it in the first place. Any plans to offer healthier food are a positive step towards tackling the country’s obesity problem.”
In April, NHS England announced that leading retailers including WHSmith, Marks & Spencer, Greggs, Subway, Medirest, ISS and the Royal Voluntary Service had agreed to continue voluntarily reducing sales of sugary drinks to 10% or less of their total drinks sales within hospitals over the coming year.
Andrew Roberts, business enterprise manager for Royal Voluntary Service, said: “Our shops, cafes and on-ward trolley services in England and Wales meet the current CQUIN requirements and we welcome the decision of NHS England to put these new measurements in place.
“We took an early lead on the NHS workforce healthy agenda by introducing our Healthier Choices programme and it is already having a significant effect on consumer behaviour. In the first quarter of 2017, year on year sales of fruit increased by 25%, healthier chilled snacks like salad and sushi by 55% and healthier sweet and savoury snacks like popcorn and dried fruit by 109%.
“We will be implementing these new guidelines and are hopeful that they will result in healthier food being a more consistent feature in all hospital retailers.”
Caroline Cerny, Obesity Health Alliance lead, praised the move but added more work needs to be done outside of hospitals to tackle obesity.
“It’s good to see NHS England taking steps to help us all make healthier food and drink choices,” she told HuffPost UK. “It is the NHS that has to deal with the devastating impact of diseases linked to obesity such as Type 2 diabetes, cancer, liver and heart disease.
“To really make an impact on obesity rates we need to tackle the wider environment such as reducing sugar, sat fat and salt from everyday foods and restricting junk food advertising to children.”