February 25, 2016

It’s about time nutrition in hospitals was taken seriously. The Nelson Marlborough District Health Board has banned the sale of drinks with sugar or artificial sweeteners. From May 1 2016, only milk, water, tea and coffee can be sold in hospital cafes, shops and vending machines. This excellent health initiative acknowledges that sweet drinks have no place in an environment that aims to help people regain their health.

The new ban has been passed because of concerns about dental health, and it’s a great start. Too often in hospitals, patients are fed highly processed foods and sugary drinks, very high in carbohydrate and with minimal protein or fat. This is hardly a ‘balanced’ diet for people in desperate need of quality nutrients to help their recovery.

Hospitals and all health agencies must place a high priority on nutrition, recognising the value it plays not only in recovery for patients but also in modelling healthy eating. If you can’t trust a hospital to provide healthy food, who can you trust? For too long, hospitals have betrayed that trust.

Whether the ban influences the rest of the hospital’s nutrition policies remains to be seen, as does whether other hospitals follow suit, but at least they have acknowledged the harmful effects of excess sugar.

The hospital’s principal dental officer says, “As a hospital we don’t believe we should be selling sickness.”

The question now will be whether the hospital’s catering department follows suit.