“Obesity is the new smoking”

So said Simon Stevens, head of the NHS.  I came across the quote in a Guardian article the evening after I visited our local hospital earlier this week.

I do believe that the NHS has a way to go, if my visit today is representative of the approach.  And sadly I think it is.  During the years following my mother-in-law’s stroke 5 years ago, she had spells in every hospital in Bristol bar the psychiatric ones, so we had plenty of scope to do a thorough study of the food available both to patients and visitors.  It was unfailingly unhealthy – even in the brand spanking new Southmead Hospital, all the shop there could offer was sugary drinks, sweets and chocolates, crisps, and every other variety of unhealthy snack.

I arrived early for my appointment, so I sat in the Atrium with a cup of tea to while away the time.  I looked around and watched as people ate and drank some of the least healthy food possible.  But that was pretty much all that was on offer.

The three machines below stood side by side, at one edge of the cafe seating area.

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At the opposite edge of the space was the cafe counter itself.  It was just like many a high-street coffee chain, as you can see from the pictures below.

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Yes, there is a token basket of (expensive, tired looking) fruit there, but would you pay 55p for a banana or an orange in preference to all the rest of the stuff on offer?t

In case that isn’t enough rubbish on offer for you, all that is supplemented with the Friends of the Hospital shop, for those emergency buys and magazines, and other bits and pieces patients or visitors might need.  Including another even larger large array of chocolates, confectionary, crisps, and sugary drinks.  Nothing remotely healthy to be found there.

It took me back to when I was an in-patient there for my hysterectomy and refused the drugs I was offered for the (almost inevitable) ensuing constipation in favour of some helpful food – which had to be brought in from outside, because it certainly wasn’t available inside.  That was about 8 years ago, and apparently no progress had been made since I had my first baby in hospital and had exactly the same conversation with the same (effective) result – 22 years previously.

Now the conversation is about soaring levels of obesity, and the impact that has on our NHS and other services.

Going back to the headline quote – obesity is the new smoking.  An interesting proposition, and not one I’d take issue with.  But it made me think.

A hospital reception area pumped full of cigarette machines, and selling little else but cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco?  Surely unthinkable, even back in the unenlighted days before smoking bans.

Sometimes I really do despair.  Is profit everything now?  Does Big Food always have to call the tune?  Lets hope that Stevens manages to achieve the change he’s talking about, maybe starting with the NHS estate.  In the meantime, I shall be taking my own snacks whenever I have to spend much time in a hospital.

About deborah @ the magic jug

Now I've passed 60 I'm still doing all sorts of things I haven't done before, as well as carrying on with the things I already love. I live a happy life with my long term love Malcolm. In my blog I explore local and low tech ideas, food, growing, making, reading, thinking, walking, and lots of other words ending in 'ing'.
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8 Responses to “Obesity is the new smoking”

  1. Allotmental says:

    When you see doctors and nurses eating all the crap as well it sums up the NHS for me😯


    • Fortunately there are some really good doctors and nurses out there, but it’s hard when you work long hours and there’s not much alternative in your workplace. My bigger worry is that with the erosion of local democracy in public services, including health and education provision, they will become more and more dominated by the interests of Big Food. (e.g removing all schools from local authorities, and all parent governors from schools).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. plot34 says:

    I agree. I work in a hospital and as part of the revised catering contract, we now have Subway on site!! Apart from anything else, the main corridor smells awful. At a different site, with no Subway, the sandwiches are still made fresh, granary bread etc BUT the portions for filling are HUGE – it’s about getting the balance between value and calories.
    I think this is about education; I attended a girl’s secondary school and we learnt to cook and plan menus for specific needs, which meant we learnt about the nutritional value of food. My son learnt how to skewer fruit cubes and make a scone based pizza. He now watches Youtube to learn how to cook and asks me but the microwave is still his best friend (sigh) and has discovered microwaveable burgers (yuck) It’s significant that in the two years that I’ve not been in charge of his diet, he has put on around 2 stone…


    • I know. I saw the writing on the wall many years ago when (yes, in Thatcher’s day) cookery was replaced by Food Technology, and instead of learning to cook my nephews were told to ‘design a pizza’ – and ‘it’s packaging’. That must have been a good 20+ years ago, and here we are today.
      Fortunately both our sons (and their partners) have swum against that particular tide, and are really good cooks and appreciate really good food. But all this stuff has influenced my commitment to the allotment, and to our local City Farm.


  3. Marian says:

    I too, find all of this very disheartening (and FWIW we’re doing no better here in Canada than you seem to be doing in England). I think this is such a multi-faceted problem … processed foods are so convenient, and people aren’t cooking anymore (either they don’t feel they have the time or they have never learned how). Medical professionals (aside from nutritionists) know precious little about nutrition, and nutritionists (in control of hospital food) either seem to be stuck in their old ways of thinking (because how else is white bread still to be found on hospital trays?) or they are afraid that patients will not want “healthy” food because it isn’t what they’re used to eating at home (in other words, perhaps the nutritionists are simply thinking of the calories rather than the nutrition, as well as perhaps considering the ensuing waste if people don’t eat). I do think that food corporations have WAY too much influence in settings such as these, and that it will take a huge effort to effect change. I/we always pack our own snacks, no matter where I/we go, because although I can’t change the whole system, I certainly don’t need to support it with my money 🙂


  4. Sam says:

    It’s one of those “Dur!” slap-your-forehead moments. So basic, so blindingly obvious, so simple. It’s the same in schools and practically every other institution. Sigh.


    • I know. I remember years ago when I dealt with complaints for the Children’s Services Department of a local authority an exasperated mother calling me to complain that her child’s secondary school had just installed a fizzy drinks machine and there was absolutely nothing I could do to help her, it was down to the school governors to decide on and they were interested in the money they would receive from it not the health issues she was raising. So very depressing. As you say, sigh. But let’s not take it lying down.


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