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Gold, incentives and meh

We should treat sugary foods as forbidden substances

Dr David Turner

It’s 2025, a porter on his break steps outside the front of the hospital in which he works and scurries over to the special shelter set aside for him and others who share his addiction.The flimsy construction offers little protection from the elements and he hugs himself inside his coat and glances around furtively, before unscrewing the cap on a bottle of sugary fizzy drink and taking a guilty swig.

Could this be the future? I do hope so.

I visited a hospital outpatient department recently and was surprised (or rather, not that surprised) to see two vending machines in the waiting area selling a full range of sugary fizzy drinks and chocolate. In case you had forgotten to bring any cash, the machines helpfully accepted card payment.

I know this in one of my perpetual rants, but why is it acceptable to sell any junk food in hospitals?

In the waiting room will be children and adults waiting to see dietitians, endocrinologists, ophthalmologists and dermatologists with conditions caused by diabetes and some manager has deemed it worth the pittance they will be making for the trust from these vending machines to tempt people to buy more of the very substance that the health professionals in the building will be encouraging them to cut back on.

Now if there is a manager reading this, please do get in touch and justify why hospital trusts do this and at the same time tell me why you don’t also allow a kiosk to set up on site selling alcohol and tobacco?

There really is no difference. In fact, selling junk food is even less justifiable. There has always been an age restriction on buying alcohol and tobacco and nobody needs to smoke or consume booze, but everybody needs to eat and drink, so putting sugar laden stuff for sale everywhere is worse in my opinion.

Schools, by and large, have rightly banned the sale of sugary drinks. So why are hospitals an exception?

Simon Stevens has recently announced that hospitals will be banned from selling super-sized chocolate bars. There will be a 250 Kcal limit on chocolates and sweets and 80% drinks sold must have less then 5g per 100ml of sugar. This is a start, but only that.

Before I’m accused of promoting the nanny state, I’m not suggesting sugary drinks are banned completely. If you want to buy one from a shop on the way to the hospital, fine - but please stop displaying this dangerous substance in illuminated glass fronted machines to tempt people who are already sugar addicts.

And finally, how about some visual warnings on sugary drinks like we used to see on cigarette packets? How about a photo of a morbidly obese diabetic with ulcerated legs and gangrenous toes?

Might not seem so refreshing then.

Dr David Turner is a GP in west London



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Readers' comments (7)

  • Cobblers

    I am presuming that we are talking about access of Chocolate and Quality Street (sorry nurse) to staff?

    Because if your thought is to the patients then unintended consequences may come into play? There is likely to be more malnutrition in hospitals. The food available is almost universally rubbish.

    It will be the time that I get the 'Just Eat' app on my phone. Delivery to Rose Cottage ward sir, no problem. :-)

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  • I once worked out that hospital meals on a 'rehab' geriatric ward meant most were getting ~700 calories a day. Strange how they all lost significant amounts of weight and left profoundly malnourished. There are plenty of sick, normally healthy people in hospital who are going through an acute, profoundly catabolic phase. I'd never craved full fat coke until I lost 10kg in a fortnight of being kept nil by mouth, with no NG/parenteral feeding, and god did I need the extra calories afterwards.

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  • Anyway, missed my own point, maybe make sure healthy options vastly outnumber unhealthy options, but a blanket ban can surely cause significant unintended consequences. As for 'bring in your own food', there's a lot of isolated patients with no visitors, and there's a lot of DGHs in the sticks.

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  • Is sugar the real enemy? On this logic we should ban pasta, bread and rice, given that’s the real addiction for our many obese and diabetic patients.

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  • What about people who don't exercise? Treadmills?? My area has just banned operations for the obese or the smoker. This is where this sort of patronising intolerance leads.

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  • For a moment I thought you said, "SURGERY foods," and I was scratching my head over how one of my own kind could be expecting me to survive a 12-hour working day without a steady supply of custard creams and pink wafers.

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  • You would have to shut the coffee shops too. Huge amounts of sugar in the average Starbucks/ Costa

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