Vending machines 'undermine' hospitals' good work'

Chocolate in a vending machine Vending machines tend to dispense high-calorie food like chocolate

Hospitals are, by definition, buildings that are dedicated to health.

But in this week's Scrubbing Up, Dr Rachel Thompson, deputy head of science at World Cancer Research Fund, says that good work is being undermined by the contents of hospital vending machines.

Whenever I visit hospitals, I am always struck by how the efforts of the dedicated healthcare professionals who work in them are being undermined by what is happening in the waiting areas.

All too often, these waiting areas have vending machines that are filled with high-calorie foods and drinks such as chocolate bars, crisps and sugary drinks.

But because these foods are a cause of obesity, they are part of the reason many of the people will have ended up in hospital in the first place.

There is strong scientific evidence that excess body fat is a risk factor for cancer, as well as other non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

And yet hospital vending machines are selling products that are a cause of obesity at the same time as the health professionals working there are trying to cope with its consequences.

That is why hospitals should put an end to vending machines that sell high calorie foods and drinks.

Little focus

It is true that on its own this would be unlikely to have a serious impact on obesity levels.

You would have to spend a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms for the contents of the vending machines to make much of a difference to your weight.

Start Quote

There is no great mystery about what needs to happen”

End Quote

But rather, the fact that hospital vending machines are filled with these kinds of foods and drinks is a symptom of how little meaningful focus there is on the obesity crisis.

Across society, big changes are needed if we are to address obesity and the preventable cases of cancer and other diseases that result from it.

The changes that we need are supported by common sense.

If you prioritise the needs of motorised transport when you plan a town, it is to be expected that people won't walk or cycle enough.

If you allow the food and drinks industry to market unhealthy products to children, then don't be surprised when children pester their parents to buy those products.

But the fact that hospital vending machines are still stocked with high-calorie foods and drinks illustrates that we are not recognising the problem.

There is no great mystery about what needs to happen.

There is already a large evidence base for what works and doesn't work when it comes to policy changes. What we need to see is political will and a change to the mindset where we tolerate the things that promote obesity.

This would not only mean the end of the kind of culture where the sale of unhealthy foods and drinks in hospital waiting rooms is seen as acceptable.

It could also mean fewer people end up in those waiting rooms in the first place.


More on This Story


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I think vending machines in schools was more of a problem to be honest. In hospitals vending machines are probably mostly used by staff - also patients & relatives as they pass through on their way to outpatients or in A & E, probably less so by ward patients.
    Rather than ban vending machines, having a balance is probably best so that fresh fruit & fruit juice is available for those who want it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I put on nearly 2 stone due to Hospital vending machines (and its taken a year to shift it again) but given that the staff canteens shut at 5:30pm what exactly are the staff meant to eat when on call or working night shifts? Before anyone suggests 'bring a packed lunch' you need somewhere to eat it & keep it outside the patient areas. Not many staff rooms these days either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Like growler (#2) I've spent a lot of time in hospital this year. Food was dreadful - my visitors brought food in for me - but a late night chocolate bar and a coffee from a vending machine really did make life a little less dreadful! With no catering facilities open after 19:00, vending machines offer something for those working late or patients who need a treat.


More Health stories


Features & Analysis

  • Cartoon of women chatting on the metroChat wagon

    The interesting things you hear in a women-only carriage

  • Replica of a cargo boxSpecial delivery

    The man who posted himself to the other side of the world

  • Jon Sopel'Emailgate'

    Hillary gets a taste of scrutiny that lies ahead

  • Beauty contestants use selfie stick7 days quiz

    Who hasn't banned selfie sticks yet?

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • Audi R8Best in show

    BBC Autos takes a look at 10 of the most eye-catching new cars at the 2015 Geneva motor show


  • A robotClick Watch

    The latest in robotics including software that can design electronics to solve problems

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.