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Monday, March 23, 2009

Healthy centralisation?

This morning's Western Mail highlights the danger of dictating local policies from the centre. Further it also shows that when one starts to set standards that everybody must follow the exceptions can be fairly bizarre and not a little embarrassing.

In this case it is the Assembly Government’s flagship scheme to remove unhealthy snacks from hospital vending machines that has come under the spotlight. It seems that under the rules a white bread sandwich filled with reformed ham would be acceptable but a wholemeal cheese and tomato sandwich, regarded by most as the healthier option, falls foul of guidelines used to determine what snacks can be sold in hospitals.

A Welsh Government spokesperson has said that the cheese and tomato sandwiches would comply with the guidelines if manufacturers used a low-fat cheese and added more salad but honestly, do we need that much detail? Is there an army of inspectors scrutinising every sandwich to ensure that it meets regulations? It is bureaucracy gone mad.

The British Sandwich Association (there really is such a body?) are scathing: “We all support the intention of encouraging healthy eating but these guidelines are absolute nonsense. Not only do they not make any sense, but the understanding of vending appears to be completely misunderstood.” The organisation, which is based in Chepstow and represents the UK sandwich industry, has called for the guidelines to be withdrawn and re-evaluated.

The guidelines it transpires are based on those issued by the Food Standards Agency, proof that even Health Minister, Edwina Hart is not adverse to looking across the border for assistance. It is expected to cost the Welsh Health Service £300,000 a year. It is difficult not to agree with the British Sandwich Association spokesperson when he says:

“Most vending machines in hospitals are there to serve the staff and people visiting patients – they are rarely used by the patients themselves.

“Furthermore, many of the staff using the facilities are doing tough jobs late at night when their only option is vended food. Their nutritional needs are very different to those of patients.

“The guidelines being imposed by the Assembly Government not only make little sense nutritionally but also deny consumers any freedom of choice in the foods they eat.

“There’s an assumption that one-size-fits-all when it comes to diet yet we know that this is completely wrong.

“People doing demanding jobs have very different needs from those in sedentary occupations. These rules completely ignore these factors.”

Government should offer good advice but it is not their place to nanny us and tell us what we can and cannot eat.

The NHS has a responsibility for health promotion and given that obesity is one of the primary determinants of shorter life expectency and ill health, diet is a central plank in any such campaign. The NHS must set an example, you wouldn't promote the sale of cigarettes as 'freedom of choice' or criticise a ban on cigarette sale in hospital as the actions of the 'nanny state'. So why exclude unhealthy food? It is not unreasonable for people to assume the NHS practices what it preaches and therefore what is found in its vending machines is 'ok'. The need for staff to eat healthily is no different to patients and the suggestion that hard work equates to a need for unhealthy food is a nonsense. As always you liberals want to 'have your cake and eat it' if you will excuse the pun........
Yes, it promotes good health that does not involve dictating how you live your life.
Just Another example of this nanny state and political posturing by point scoring megalomaniacs, nothing is achieved by these bans other than to limit people choice, reducing income to the NHS and ensuring that thousands of jobs in the vending industry are lost. If banning “unhealthy” vending products is successful then it would be fair to assume that 2 years after the school ban on “unhealthy” vending machines, there has been a huge reduction in obese school children? That’s simply not the case.
The reality is, if you want a bar of chocolate and it’s not available in the hospital, people with either bring it with them or nip to the nearest shop. To compare smoking with eating a Kit-Kat is simply ridiculous, there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating an occasional bar of chocolate, however as usual you think you know best and force the opinions of a minority on the majority.
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