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Unhealthy food ban cutting hospital calories but obesity-related admissions up

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The number of calories being consumed by hospital staff and visitors has been slashed over the last year but admissions related to obesity have spiked by nearly 20%.

There has been a “sharp decline” in the sales of sugary snacks and drinks and hundreds of millions fewer calories consumed over the last year, according to NHS England.

The body’s chief executive, Simon Stevens, asked hospital trusts and their suppliers to dramatically cut the sale of sugar-filled fizzy drinks or face an outright ban later this year, as announced in January.

So far 152 of 232 trusts – about a third – have signed up to the scheme to reduce sales of sugar sweetened beverages, said NHS England.

Meanwhile, it said new figures showed that curbing the sale of chocolate and unhealthy sandwiches meant staff, patients and visitors had consumed 632million fewer calories over the last year.

Last year, NHS England instructed hospitals to take super-size chocolate bars and “grab bags” of sugary snacks off of the shelves. In October, Mr Stevens announced that there would be 250 calorie limit on confectionary sold in hospital canteens, stores, vending machines and other outlets.

While data is still being collected on the results, NHS England highlighted some of the headline figures from several of the suppliers involved so far.

It said one large hospital retailer removed advertising and promotions on NHS estates and has sold over 1.1million fewer single chocolate bars in the last year – equating to 264million fewer calories.

In addition, an additional 175,000 pieces of fruit have been sold in hospital stores and sandwiches have been made healthier by the Royal Voluntary Service, Compass Group and other retailers.

Simon Stevens

Simon Stevens

Simon Stevens

Meanwhile, Costa has removed the large size, “Massimo”, from their seasonal and more indulgent drinks in hospital stores, and a cream topping is now an optional extra rather than standard.

Mr Stevens said: “We now know that obesity causes 13 different types of cancer as well as heart attacks and strokes, so the NHS has needed to get its own house in order on the epidemic of flab.”

But NHS England also highlighted figures showing what it described as a “staggering” number of admissions in NHS hospitals being linked to obesity – up nearly 20% from the previous year. It warned the country’s obesity epidemic was adding to the “pressure facing hospitals and frontline staff”.

According to NHS Digital, there were 617,000 admissions to NHS hospitals in 2016-17 where obesity was recorded as either a primary or secondary diagnosis, an increase of 18% on 525,000 in 2015-16.

Of these, 10,705 had obesity recorded as the main cause, an increase on 9,929 admissions in 2015-16, said the body in a new report – Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet; England, 2018.

The annual report pulls together new and previously published data on obesity, including admissions, prescriptions, prevalence among adults and children as well as physical activity and diet.


New figures from the Hospital Episodes Statistics dataset in the report:

Hospital admissions

  • Around two thirds of the admissions where obesity was recorded as either a primary or secondary diagnosis in 2016-17 were for women (66%)
  • There were 6,760 Finished Consultant Episodes (FCEs) for bariatric surgery in 2016-17, a 5% increase on 2015-16 (6,438). Of these, 77% of the patients were female


  • The number of items prescribed by primary care for obesity treatment decreased by 10% in 2017 (401,000 items) on the previous year (449,000).
  • The Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) also continues the same downward trend, falling from £9.9m in 2016 to £6.9m in 2017.


  • Adult obesity prevalence stood at 26% in 2016, having remained around this level since 2010
  • Obesity prevalence varied with area deprivation for women but not for men in 2016. The prevalence of obesity almost doubles for women in the most deprived areas (38%) compared to the least deprived areas (20%)
  • Child obesity prevalence in 2016-17 was 10% in reception year and 20% in year six

Physical activity and diet

  • 66% of men and 58% of women aged 19 and over met the government’s aerobic guidelines in 2016
  • 21% of men and 25% of women were classed as inactive in 2016
  • The proportion of children meeting government physical activity guidelines rose from 21% in 2012 to 23% in 2015 for boys, and from 16% in 2012 to 20% in 2015 for girls
  • 24% of men and 28% of women consumed the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day in 2016
  • 16% of children consumed the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day in 2016, falling from 23% in 2014
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