Wellington hospitals crack down on junk food, fizzy drinks

Capital and Coast District Health Board voted in a ban on the sale of unhealthy foods, including at vending machines, at ...

Capital and Coast District Health Board voted in a ban on the sale of unhealthy foods, including at vending machines, at Wellington hospitals. Hutt Valley and Wairarapa hospitals were set to follow suit.

Pies and fizzy drinks will banned in Wellington region hospitals – unless you bring your own.

On Friday, Capital & Coast District Health Board voted for new rules that will outlaw the sale of unhealthy foods at vending machines, cafes or coffee carts on hospital grounds.

The same rules will go to the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa DHBs for a vote next week and, if successful, will banish all manner of deep-fried and sugary treats from hospitals throughout the region.

But staff and patients with a real hankering for a burgers, pies or chips can still go off-site for their junk food and bring it back to the hospital. Both Burger Fuel and McDonald's are within strolling distance of Wellington Hospital.

Speaking after the vote, Capital & Coast board member and former Green MP Sue Kedgley said poor diets were the leading cause of illness in New Zealand. It was high time the DHB made it clear that unhealthy food had no place in the hospital.

"The hospital has an obligation to provide healthy food so we are not contributing to that illness."

The new guidelines, which will become strict policy within 18 months, mean any deep-fried food, most confectionary and sugary drinks are banned from being sold at the hospital. These foods - along with big muffins, sugary breakfast cereal and fatty icecream - are labelled "red" and are strictly off the menu. 

Slightly naughty food - such as full-fat yoghurt, cheese, white bread and small amounts of processed meat - are labelled "orange" and can make up only 15 per cent of the menu.

The vast majority of food must be "green", such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrain bread, lean meats and beans.

A report put before the Capital & Coast board warned the policy could risk being seen as an example of the "nanny state", and that a previous attempt at Hutt Hospital was "not well received". Caterers could also struggle to meet the new health standards.

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The board already moved in 2007 to improve the healthiness of its foods, and the new rules are only slightly stricter, banning all fizzy drinks for the first time. It still has seven drinks machines and four snack machines scattered around Wellington and Kenepuru hospitals.

However, Wairarapa and particularly Hutt hospitals both offer plenty of options for staff and patients to buy chocolate, fizzy drinks and pies without stepping outside the hospital grounds. 

The report said Hutt Valley DHB in particular currently met none of the healthy food standards. Its in-house catering offered hot chips and pies daily, and chocolate and lollies were readily available at the hospital.

"This guideline would have considerable impact for Hutt food services. Modifying recipes would have cost implications."

Neither Hutt Valley nor Wairarapa DHB would comment on the report before it went to boards, but Hutt board member John Terris said he would support the new rules, particularly those restricting fizzy drinks.

"There is a huge amount of sugar dumped into these things, and our clinicians are seeing what happens at the other end, particularly with diabetes."

Other DHBs, including Auckland, have already introduced similar healthy food regimes.

Wishbone has catering contracts in three hospitals, including Wellington, and chief executive Samantha Laika said she had already had to alter menus in other hospitals to adapt to healthy food standards. This included reducing the size of its juices, muffins and cookies, which she also expected to do at Wellington Hospital.

"But people can still walk out of the hospital, cross the road and eat whatever they like," she said.

Otago University associate professor Louise Signal, who specialises in healthy eating, applauded the DHB's move, saying it sent a strong signal. Even if people could get junk food elsewhere, the health sector had to lead by example.

"It's not about people stopping eating those foods, it's about sending the right signal about healthy eating."

NEW HOSPITAL RULES

* No sugar-sweetened drinks, but with an allowance for flavoured milk and fruit juice up to 250ml, and drinks sweetened with non-nutritive sweeteners up to 355ml.

* Limited sales of packaged snack foods that contain less than 800 kilojoules a packet. This rules out most sweets and potato chips.

* Food and drinks should be dominated by wholegrains, vegetables and fruit

  • No deep-fried foods
  • Portion sizes of baked snack food, such as muffins and cakes, are small

 - Stuff

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