In an attempt to limit sugar and sweets consumption in its hospitals, England has decided to put a limit on the types and amounts of dessert food available to their patients. Chocolate bars and other dessert foods are not to be sold if they contain more than 250 calories per package, and “grab bags” filled with sweets and treats are officially banned.
This means that chocolate bars, “super-sized” desserts of all kinds, and even some sugary drinks are being wiped from hospital café shelves, leaving in their wake a void of lower-calorie diet options for patients and visitors to subsist on during dire dessert cravings.
This restriction is meant to tackle obesity and was devised by the National Health Service (NHS) of England to limit the health care costs of obesity-related disease. Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, says that the prevalence of sugar in hospitals and elsewhere contributes to “an epidemic of obesity, preventable diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease, and cancer,” which could hypothetically be prevented by decreasing the availability of sugar-loaded foods.
“In place of calorie-laden, sugary snacks we want to make healthier food an easy option for hospital staff, patients and visitors,” Stevens says.
The sugar isn’t the only thing being limited in these health care facilities. Seventy-five percent of sandwiches must be under 400 calories, pre-packaged meals must contain less than 5 grams of saturated fat, and 80 percent of drinks must contain less than 5 grams of added sugar per 100 milliliters.
These restrictions, while well-intentioned, seem somewhat arbitrary once you compare them with the more recent consensus around dietary restrictions and obesity.
Firstly, calories are not the culprit of unhealthy eating — many patients likely have a caloric need over 400 calories per meal. A 700-calorie sandwich with whole wheat bread, protein like meat or tofu, fats from avocado or another spread, and vegetables is likely a healthy option for a midday meal.
Saturated fat is no longer seen as a nutritional demon, either. Studies have been released showing that diets with moderate amounts of saturated fat have resulted in healthier, longer-living people.
Meanwhile, attempts to limit different aspects of diet have resulted in poorer health outcomes and a higher prevalence of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. By imposing a diet on its patients, the hospital is exposing its residents to the harmful effects of weight stigma and moralizing food groups, further perpetuating the obesity “crisis” and potentially worsening prevalence of disease.
Instead of clearing its cafeterias of desserts, perhaps England should focus on educating its patients about the effects of food choices and trusting them to intuitively navigate the shelves themselves.