“Hospitals in England to ban supersize chocolate bars”, read the headlines this week. Really… seriously? I couldn’t help my incredulous reaction to this move. Surely the impact of occasional treats is negligible on health – and are we really going to control what people can or cannot buy? To me, a wholesale ban on certain products is completely the wrong way to tackle the obesity crisis.
I understand the argument – calorific foods and a lack of physical activity leads to obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and all the other conditions which can be prevented with better eating and physical activity. I also understand the importance of preventive medicine and the importance of Public Health messages. But this proposed ban in hospitals seems like a step too far. And where does it end? Will we not be allowed to bring in mom’s apple pie? Will they demand a list of ingredients for homemade recipes?
I’m being intentionally facetious, but that’s because announcing a chocolate ban seems to me like a bit of a joke. That is not to underplay the importance of Public Health messages and the spiralling costs of obesity to society. But banning chocolate and pre-packaged sandwiches is a drop in the ocean. If people want to bring in chocolate and crisps to hospital – they’re going to do it. So really the way to tackle obesity is in education – helping people understand nutrition and make informed choices.
I realise that hospitals have an important role in addressing the obesity epidemic but policing this seems bizarre. Junk food is just one piece of the puzzle in tackling obesity. I, for one, would be looking to implement tougher restrictions on junk food marketing to children, also limiting the promotion of unhealthy foods. But ultimately, in any free democracy, it is down to the individual to decide for themselves. There is a responsibility to provide education, but beyond that people have to make their own decisions – or we risk becoming a ‘nanny state’.