Strategic advice for the food and beverage industry

Hospital strikes off sugar for staff health

A good friend was in hospital recently, for an operation followed by two weeks of recovery. Next to the boredom, and the constant interruptions for tests of various sorts, the worst thing about hospital, she said, was the food. Beige, unappealing and unhealthy, it did nothing for her already waning appetite and she ended up eating only bananas for two weeks.

And it seems it’s not just patients’ meals that are less-than-healthy; a recent report revealed that one in four nurses in the UK’s national health service (NHS) is obese and there are high staff sickness levels. It’s a problem that’s driven one hospital, Tameside in Manchester, to smarten up its food act, with staff vending machines now selling only healthier options and sugar-free drinks.

Tameside has become the first hospital in the UK to cut sugary snacks and sweetened drinks from its restaurant; from this month (January), the only drinks on the menu for staff and visitors will be tea, milk, sugar-free drinks and water. And the Costa coffee shop on site will cut down on promoting sugary food and drink.

Amanda Bromley is the hospital director responsible for staff wellbeing at Tameside. She said: “Obesity related illness is taking an increasing toll on the NHS, as almost half of nurses are over the age of 45. The figures are deeply worrying and long, stressful shifts often made it hard for staff to make healthy choices. I believe by listening to colleagues and being guided by the results of the staff weight loss experiment we are showing that things can change.”

The changes follow the success of a slimming programme laid on by the hospital for 100 or so staff members. The Slimpod programme was commissioned by hospital Trust chief executive Karen James because of her concerns about the health and wellbeing of her team.

“My staff work very hard,” said James. “Long hours and shift patterns often make it very difficult for people to make healthy choices, so they opt for the instant sweet fixes, which until today have been readily available. These are dedicated healthcare professionals who believe they should be role models for their patients but the food environment has been working against them.”

Staff members who followed the Slimpod programme reduced their portion sizes, ate healthier foods and lost weight. The most successful person on the study lost 13.1kg over the 12 weeks, and one who had been chronically diabetic now has the condition under control.

Urgent care nurse Luan Walton, 38, lost 20 pounds in 12 weeks. “I’ve already dropped a dress size and a half,” she said. “I’m wearing a smaller uniform and soon will have to replace it with an even smaller one.”

Cancer nurse Stephanie Ridgeway, 50, said: “My problem was I could be giving advice to my patients about healthy eating with my pockets stuffed with chocolate bars. Now I feel that I’m practising what I preach. I’ve lost 21lbs and I’m a size 10.”

The changes haven’t been met with universal approval – complaints about freedom of choice being taken away have been reported in UK media. Some might also argue that the moves are a distraction from dealing with the real problem of an overstretched health system and highly demanding working conditions. And so far, the moves affect only the restaurant, the coffee shop and the staff vending machines.

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