Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Hospitals must shed the unhealthy snacks

It seems the very essence of illogical behaviour that hospitals across Northern Ireland have vending machines which stock unhealthy drinks and snacks as health experts warn of an obesity crisis in the province
It seems the very essence of illogical behaviour that hospitals across Northern Ireland have vending machines which stock unhealthy drinks and snacks as health experts warn of an obesity crisis in the province

Editor's Viewpoint

It seems the very essence of illogical behaviour that hospitals across Northern Ireland have vending machines which stock unhealthy drinks and snacks as health experts warn of an obesity crisis in the province.

Almost two thirds of adults here are classified as overweight or obese and treating obesity costs an estimated £460m a year.

People are encouraged to buy healthy food, cut out snacks such as crisps and give fizzy drinks a wide berth.

Yet those very same items are on sale in hospital vending machines.

Some may argue that the income from those machines have raised £2.5m over the past five years, some of which goes into frontline services, but the figure pales into the cost of treating the very condition which they encourage.

Hospitals have acted responsibly in the past by banning smoking, first of all within hospital buildings and latterly within the grounds.

That was a decision taken to help tobacco addicts kick the habit.

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It would seem sensible that a similar approach is taken when it comes to unhealthy foods. Of course vending machines provide a valuable service, providing patients, visitors and staff with something to eat when hospital canteens or cafes are closed. But it cannot be beyond the wit of the authorities to ensure that the contents of these machines are as healthy as possible, with greater emphasis on bottled water or snacks low on calories, salt and sugar.

This is not the first time that hospitals have been accused of trying to raise money at the expense of patients, visitors or staff. Only hospitals in Northern Ireland and England charge parking fees. In the three years from 2015 to 2018 this raised £13m, £2.5m of which came from staff.

There have been calls for a review of the parking charges which are unavoidable for both staff - not all of whom earn huge wages and who have seen wages capped for a number of years - regular patients and visitors. Only those receiving regular cancer treatment are given exemption tickets.

Hospitals have argued with some validity that car parking charges are necessary because some people were using the facilities as park and ride stops on their way to work. Perhaps a time limited ticketing arrangement could help overcome this problem.

A cash-strapped NHS needs all the money it can find, but encouraging poor dietary habits or exploiting car parking only causes ill-feeling.

Belfast Telegraph

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