HEALTH experts have given the tick of approval for the decision to put the brakes on sales of sugary drinks and junk food in Queensland hospitals.
Metro South Health hospitals say they are making it easier for patients, staff and visitors at hospitals in the region to choose wisely, with the amount of sugary drinks for sale greatly reduced and healthier options increased and promoted.
Metro South Health chief executive Dr Stephen Ayre said the changes were part of the Healthier Choices initiative, which is improving access to healthier food and drinks in vending machines, cafes, coffee carts, other retail outlets and staff canteens.
“Our hospitals and health centres are all about promoting good health, wellbeing and healing – and that includes offering nutritious, healthy food and drink all day, every day,” Dr Ayre said.
“We’re also determined to help tackle the high rates of obesity and diabetes in some areas of our region, which evidence shows are fuelled in part by the consumption of sugar-laden soft drinks.
“That’s why we have greatly reduced the amount of sugary soft drinks for sale in all our hospitals and health centres.
“In outlets we run, the unhealthy options – high sugar soft drinks – have been reduced to just 20 per cent of all drinks for sale.
“Healthier drinks, such as water, milk and no added sugar fruit juice, have been increased to 80 per cent of all drinks for sale and they are now displayed more prominently,” he said.
Healthier Choices project officer and dietitian Annabelle Stack said they were making healthy choices more accessible with more of their stocked vending machines improving 24-hour access for staff and the community.
“Food and drink for sale will feature green (healthy); amber (okay) and red (less healthy) labels, alongside an eye-catching, retro-themed marketing campaign, so people can easily spot the healthiest items and make informed choices.
“While we are still offering people the choice, we have increased healthy food and drink choices, made them more visible and more available in our hospitals.”
The Obesity Policy Coalition applauded the Queensland Government for committing to restrict these items in public hospitals and health care facilities, as well as phasing out junk food advertising near schools, public transport hubs, and sports grounds.
OPC Executive Manager Jane Martin said sugary drinks and unhealthy food have no place in hospitals or health services, and called on other state and territory governments across Australia, who are yet to act, to also take action.
“Hospitals and health facilities are designed to keep our communities healthy, so it just doesn't make sense for them to be selling high sugar drinks and processed food," Ms Martin said.
Queensland joins New South Wales, which has successfully removed sugary drinks from hospitals. A number of regional health services around Australia have also removed sugary drinks, including Victoria’s Western District Health Service and Barwon Health.
“We also congratulate the Queensland Government for leading the development of guidelines to phase out advertising of junk food targeting children in settings such as schools, sport and recreation centres, as well as public transport hubs.”
With 27 per cent of Australian children an unhealthy weight, Ms Martin said we have a serious problem on our hands.
“More than 40 per cent of the energy in children’s diets is coming from junk foods and, as every parent knows, marketing is a key driver influencing this.”
“We look forward to the Queensland Government progressing these initiatives to continue improving diets and halting our increasing obesity rates, particularly among children.”
The Cancer Council and Heart Foundation also applauded the move, with both commending the government for taking action on the issue.
Cancer Council Queensland is currently running an Everyday Health Survey on sugar-sweetened beverages, aiming to identify consumer habits, determine understanding of the health impacts of sugary drinks, and assess support for regulations to reduce consumption.
Queenslanders aged 18 and over can have their say by completing the survey at www.cancerqld.org.au/everydayhealthsurvey.