Are NHS Canteens contributing to Scottish obesity crisis?

By Olivia Armstrong

PUBLIC health expert Dr Drew Walker has accused the National Health Service of promoting obesity in its canteens although a Scottish dietician has said the problem is bigger than this one issue.

Giving evidence to the committee as a representative of the Scottish Directors of Public Health Network, Dr Walker, said: “In far too many hospitals in Scotland, one of the first things you do when you go in the main door is you come across a commercial outlet which is marketing very heavily energy dense food.

“When you go into staff canteens, the food choices are too often high-calorie, low nutritional value foods. We should be expecting the NHS to play a full role in not at least promoting obesity in the way that it currently does.”

Professor Linda Bauld from Cancer Research UK also proposed a ban on advertising junk food to children in order to prevent young cancer deaths caused by obesity.

She said “It’s the biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking. For people who don’t smoke, it is the single biggest preventable cause and I do think it’s a public health crisis.”

Further health experts taking part in the committee discussion on obesity said policies were in place to tackle the problem but they were not on a large enough scale and suffered from lack of resources.

However, Lorraine McCreary from Diet Scotland stated she believed that some patients would need a high energy intake from what is deemed unhealthy foods and most hospital stays are short term, meaning obesity can be linked to dozens of sources as opposed to just one.

She said: “Although I would say healthier choices could be available within some NHS premises, you have to remember that some patients may be in need of the high energy intake from what we term unhealthy foods. Not all patients are obese and not all all obese patients will buy from hospital shops.

“Not all obese people become obese via what you may view as an unhealthy diet. Eating too much of even a healthy diet will result in weight gain.”

Scottish Government statistics published on Tuesday (Dec 6) showed 29% of people in the country aged 16 and over were obese in 2015 and over 60% were overweight.

Treatment of obesity is thought to cost the NHS in Scotland between £360 million and £600 million a year and has been branded as a “public health crisis”.

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