Hospital food operators urged to promote healthy eating

Hospital eateries must provide healthier alternatives as part of efforts to tackle rising obesity rates in Northern Ireland. 

Chief medical officer of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Michael McBride, said that healthcare food operators must adapt to the trend of consumers eating meals and snacks outside of their homes. Restaurants, coffee shops and takeaway businesses therefore are in a position of influence and have an impact on the quality of the food that is being consumed.

In an attempt to curb unhealthy eating, the FSA highlighted that Northern Ireland’s A Fitter Future for All 2012-2022 programme was an area that could be developed. As a result, the FSA, The Public Health Agency and Safefood, with the help from delivery partners, have set the goal of producing and implementing new standards by 2019. The standards will be designed to complement the work being carried out by health and social care trusts, and will build and strengthen activities at a regional level.

“Hospital restaurants are where staff as well as visitors-regularly have the main meal of their day,” said McBride. “It’s therefore vital that we make the healhier choice the easy choice. And by helping staff to have a healthy diet we can improve their health and wellbeing and also improve productivity and reduce staff absences.

“These nutritional standards are an important step forward in the valuable work by the catering departments within the Health Service to encourage healthier eating among staff and visitors, through providing healthy food. I’m pleased that the Health Service is leading by example and I urge others in the public, private, voluntary and community sectors to implement these standards and improve the health and wellbeing of their staff and ultimately of our population.”

A steering group involving dietitians, caterers and procurement managers were tasked with reviewing similar projects and come up with a set of standards for Northern Ireland, before being issued for wider consultation.

The standards are being modelled on the ‘Healthier and More Sustainable Catering: A toolkit for serving food to adults’ report by Eatwell Guide and Public Health England (PHE). Standards will be applied to all facilities serving food within HSC settings including catering facilites, privately owned retail units and vending machines.

To implement change, a dietitian or nutritionist will be employed to ensure that targets are met.

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