London: The NHS needs to play its part in the fight against obesity by banning fast-food outlets such as McDonald’s and Burger King from hospitals, MPs have said.
Parliament’s health select committee calls for the ban as part of a raft of measures to tackle the growing number of Britons who are becoming dangerously overweight.
In a report on the impact of physical activity and diet on health, the committee endorses the view of Prof Theresa Marteau, an expert in public health at Cambridge University, that hospitals are being negligent by allowing such firms to operate in places that promote good health.
The report quotes Marteau’s view, stated in her evidence to the MPs, that “it is at best anomalous and at worst negligent that NHS properties continue to serve foods high in sugar, fat and salt, as exemplified by McDonald’s and Burger King outlets in some of our most prestigious hospitals, including Guy’s hospital in London and Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge.”
The cross-party committee says: “The NHS should lead by example and manage its estate in a way that stops promoting the over-consumption of energy-dense, nutritionally poor food.”
Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, backed the MPs’ call and criticised hospitals for permitting the sale of fast food.
“The NHS is being pennywise but pound-foolish selling junk food that ultimately just lands more people in hospital with expensive, preventable, obesity-driven illnesses. So as these fast-food concessions come up for renewal, hospitals should demand healthier, tastier, affordable alternatives,” he said.
The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and British Medical Association, both of which represent doctors, back a ban. Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist who is a consultant clinical associate to the academy and also the science director of the campaign group Action on Sugar, said: “It is nothing short of obscene that the very institutions that are supposed to be setting an example of good health, our hospitals, have become a branding opportunity for the junk food industry.
“It is perhaps not surprising that 50 per cent of the NHS 1.4 million employees are themselves overweight or obese. Banning the sale of junk food in hospitals is long overdue.”
The MPs also call for local councils to get powers to limit the proliferation of fast-food outlets in certain areas; a crackdown on unhealthy foods being sold cheaply, such as through two-for-one offers; and the NHS to put far more money into treating obese patients through weight-management schemes such as Weight Watchers.
It is “inexplicable and unacceptable that the NHS is now spending more on bariatric surgery for obesity than on a national rollout of intensive-support lifestyle intervention programmes that were first shown to cut obesity and prevent diabetes over a decade ago,” they say.
The report urges doctors, especially GPs, to use consultations to talk about patients’ weight, and calls for “a co-ordinated government-wide programme to tackle poor diet and physical inactivity,” led by the prime minister.