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Hospitals threaten sugary drinks ban and set low-calorie food targets

NHS England has said it will ban sugary drinks in hospitals unless firms can dramatically reduce sales. The move is part of a package of new rules that will also force on-site outlets to sell fewer unhealthy options.

Suppliers have been given 12 months to reduce sales of sweet beverages to 10% or less of total sales.

Greggs, Subway, ISS and ready meals supplier Medirest are amongst a handful of companies to have voluntarily committed to the target. NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said this sent a “powerful message” but urged other providers to follow suit.

The announcement came just days before MPs approved a national tax on sugar-sweetened drinks as the Finance Bill progressed to the House of Lords.

The British Soft Drinks Association said it “makes sense” to promote sales of healthier options in hospitals but the focus should be wider than soft drinks.

NHS England is also restricting sales of high calorie foods as part of the £5m plan to improve staff wellbeing unveiled in October 2015.

From next April hospitals will have to ensure that 60% of pre-packed sandwiches and other savoury pre-packed meals contain 400 kcal or less per serving and do not exceed 5g of saturated fat per 100g. This will rise to 75% in 2018/19. In addition, 60% of confectionery and sweets they stock must not exceed 250 kcal, moving to 80% in 2018/19.

The new targets follow initiatives to cut all price promotions on sugary drinks and foods high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS), as well as ban advertisements of these foods on NHS premises.

Subway has already met the new criteria on food and drinks sold in its 12 NHS franchised stores and exceeded the soft drinks target.

Campaigners welcomed the action being taken by NHS England, as well as this week’s cross-party support in the House of Commons for a new national tax on sugary drinks.

Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator at the Children’s Food Campaign, said the levy has been a “hard-ought victory for children’s health”, but the next government still has a huge job on its hands.

“The battle-lines of opposition have already been drawn by the food and drinks industries and their well-funded front-groups to other similarly brave and bold measures, including restrictions on junk food marketing and promotions,” he explained.

The Childhood Obesity Plan, published by the current government last August, attracted widespread criticism for its reliance on industry-led initiatives and failure to include any new regulations to restrict advertising of unhealthy food and drinks.