Leading doctors have called for a ban on junk food and fizzy drinks in hospitals.
For many patients and their families vending machines offering crisps, chocolate and cans of pop are the easiest way to get some food in hospitals.
But cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra said that to combat the obesity epidemic, hospitals should take a stance against selling junk food.
Dr Malhotra, who works at London’s Royal Free Hospital, called on the British Medical Association to join the Academy of Medical Royal College’s campaign to ban such food in hospitals.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, he said: “An oversupply of nutritionally poor and energy dense foods loaded with sugar, salt and trans fats, fuelled by aggressive and irresponsible marketing by the junk food industry has even been allowed to hijack the very institutions that are supposed to set an example and promote positive health messages; our hospitals.”
“It’s time for the British Medical Association to join with the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and lobby for a ban of junk food and beverages to be sold in all hospitals. To combat obesity we must start in our own back yard.”
On Friday, delegates at the BMA’s annual representative meeting in Edinburgh will vote on a motion calling for all NHS premises to display the health risks from junk food in hospital kitchens and on vending machines.
The call comes as research suggests that junk food really could be addictive and stimulate cravings in much the same way as an illicit drug.
The findings suggest that limiting “high-glycaemic” carbohydrates that cause blood sugar to surge could help curb over-eating and obesity.
Scientists investigated how food intake is regulated by the brain’s “pleasure centres” which are known to be linked to addiction.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to observe the brain activity of overweight and obese volunteers for four hours after a meal.
This crucial period has been shown to influence behaviour the next time a meal is eaten.
Lead scientist Dr David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Centre in Boston, US, said: “Beyond reward and craving, this part of the brain is also linked to substance abuse and dependence, which raises the question as to whether certain foods might be addictive.
“These findings suggest that limiting high-glycaemic index carbohydrates like white bread and potatoes could help obese individuals reduce cravings and control the urge to over-eat.”
The research is reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
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