Well, it seems I have caused quite a stir this week, after my article criticising the NHS for encouraging obesity by allowing coffee shops and vending machines that offer predominantly unhealthy food choices to be housed within in our hospitals.
It's a discussion that seems to have hit home with everyone who spends time in NHS premises - not just medics. The background? I'm really angry that the NHS, who last year spent £6bn on tackling obesity, fills our waiting rooms and foyers with high sugar/high fat food and drink offerings - from fizzy drinks and chocolates in vending machines, to coffee chains offering lattes and muffins that together can account for a third of our daily calorie recommendation and twice the daily sugar intake that is being recommended by the World Health Organisation!
How can I advise my patients to eat more healthily when they walk out of my weight-loss clinic to face temptations like that?
We have allowed hospitals to get tied up in contracts with these providers--giving away some of our control of good nutrition, a fundamental tenet of health. We are allowing these vending machines to spew out coke and chocolate at the very patients and staff who we may well be treating for diabetes, heart disease, and knee arthritis before long--and at increasingly crippling expense too.
Judging by the response to my TV and radio discussions, many others feel the same frustration that our National Health Service is giving such a mixed message and failing to practise what it preaches.
But don't get me wrong - I am not calling for a total ban as was portrayed in the media. Hospitals are stressful places for staff, patients and visitors and goodness knows we all need a bar of chocolate or a strong, milky coffee from time-to-time. But, in many hospitals around the country, it is far easier to get a high calorie, fatty, sugary snack than anything fresh, unprocessed and nutritious - and that has to be wrong. Yes, it is our own choice what we put in our mouths but we are all human, and if an unhealthy snack is much easier to find than a healthy one, we will usually go for convenience over nutrition - particularly if hungry and stressed!
So ..... how do we resist those current unhealthy hospital choices?
Boredom - take a book, knitting, crossword or anything to distract you from the long waits... and the vending machine!
Stress - aromatherapy roll-on, Rescue Remedy, a walk. Hospitals can zap your energy and send your stress levels sky high so take precautions and find a stress-buster that works for you.
Unexpected delay - come prepared with a healthier snack (almonds, low-sugar cereal bar, fruit)
Dehydration (why are hospitals so hot!?) - take a bottle of water. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger and keeping hydrated will also keep you from getting headaches and fatigue.
Reward - surviving a stressful hospital trip or treatment can often make you feel you've 'earned' a sweet treat. Instead treat yourself to a long bath or simply a well-earned rest with your feet up, when you get back!
And as for the NHS ....... what would I like to see instead?
• Nutritious, healing food for patients that is tailored to their individual needs.
• 24 hour access to proper, healthy food for staff and visitors.
• Vending machines with healthier choices.
• Local producers of fresh, quality, nutritious and delicious foods providing the food and drink for our hospital cafes.
Yes, there may be financial implications to that - but there are also quite significant financial implications to the 6 billion pounds that the NHS is spending on obesity related diseases per year!
We are in the middle of an obesity epidemic that threatens to bankrupt the NHS and yet our very hospitals are not providing us with the good nutrition that is fundamental to health. Let's be honest - how can we advise the public on healthy eating when we can't get our own house in order?!!