Sugar Ban Mooted for NHS Hospitals

The NHS is set to take a lead on public health and ban or impose a tax on sugary drinks sold in hospitals.

Chief executive Simon Stevens has stated his desire to set a healthy example for the rest of society.

Trials are planned for four NHS hospitals, with the intention of floating the policy.

England would be the first country in the world to take such action, should the plan go ahead.

The consultation will runs until 18th January next year.

Drinks affected by the potential initiative would be any with added sugar, including fruit juices, sweetened milk-based drinks and sweetened coffees.

The soft drinks industry has naturally responded strongly to this suggestion.

Gavin Partington, of the British Soft Drinks Association, commented that “it’s hard to see how a ban on soft drinks can be justified given that the sector has led the way in reducing consumers’ sugar intake”.

It is believed that a 20% tax on sugary drinks would raies int the region of £30 million annually.

The authorities state that revenue would then be reinveted in patient charities and “health and wellbeing programmes” to help keep the NHS’s 1.3 million employees fit.

During recent trials, one hospital that banned sugary drinks found the overall total number of drinks sold did not decrease, meaning vendors were financially unaffected.

Stevens suggested that the move could have a positive impact on diabetes and the dental health of children.

“Confronted by rising obesity, type 2 diabetes and child dental decay, it’s time for the NHS to practise what we preach. By ploughing the proceeds of any vendor fees back into staff health and patient charities these proposals are a genuine win-win opportunity to both improve health and cut future illness cost burdens for the NHS.”

Health charities welcomed the idea, unlike the soft drinks industry.

The aforementioned Partington continued with his arguments against the move.

“Sugar intake is down by over 17% since 2012. In 2015 we also became the only category to set a calorie reduction target of 20% by 2020. Given that the government is looking to introduce a soft drinks tax in 2018 it seems slightly odd that another public body wishes to duplicate this process.”

A sugar tax was previously repealed in Denmark after it failed to have a significantly positive impact.

The Danish government estimated that it was losing €38.9 million in VAT annually from illegal soft drink sales.

After 15 months the tax was abandoned, following surveys which suggested that only 7% of Danes had reduced their fat intake.

The tax was, however, blamed for 1,300 lost jobs as Danish shoppers crossed to Germany or Sweden.

 
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Research Challenges the Concept of ‘Good’ Cholesterol

A study has suggested that the conventional wisdom regarding ‘good’ cholesterol may be incorrect after all.

The research in question was conducted at Cambridge University, and has been published in the Science journal.

Scientists found that good cholesterol is not always beneficial to the individual, which challenges orthodox opinion on the subject.

Eating olive oil, fish and nuts raises levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – which is more commonly known as good cholesterol.

However, repeated trials that raise HDL with drugs have flopped, leading doctors to question underlying assumptions about them.

The trials involved in the research revealed that a specific gene mutation has a influence over the cholesterol conundrum.

People with a mutation in a gene called SCARB1, which affects one-in-1,700 people, had very high levels of good cholesterol.

Yet these individuals also suffered from an 80% inflated risk of heart disease; a particularly alarming number as it is approximately comparable to regular smoking.

Prof Adam Butterworth, one of the researchers from the University of Cambridge, declared that the research is particularly significant, and that it would challenge assumptions regarding the way that good cholesterol works in human body.

“This is significant because we had always believed that good cholesterol is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. This is one of the first studies to show that some people that have high levels of ‘good’ cholesterol actually have a higher risk of heart disease so it challenges our conventional wisdom about whether ‘good’ cholesterol is protecting people from heart disease or not.”

Previous research has focused on producing pharmaceutical products that raise HDL, in the hope that this will have a significant impact on heart health.

But the aforementioned Butterworth suggested that drugs which are aimed at simply raising the level of HCL is the human body may ultimately be futile.

While the researchers have questioned the importance of boosting levels of HDL cholesterol, they insist it still remains a valuable tool for predicting the risk of a heart attack.

But fellow researcher Dr Daniel Rader, from the University of Pennsylvania, believes that conventional wisdom on the subject may turn 180 degrees eventually.

“Eventually we may want to perform genetic testing in persons with high HDL to make sure they don’t have mutations, like this one, that raise HDL but don’t protect against, or may even increase, risk for heart disease.”

Coronary heart disease is the single most common cause of death before 65 accounting for 16% male and 10% female deaths.

Cardiovascular disease is responsible for 38% of male and 37% female deaths before the age of 75.

 
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World Health Organisation States its Support for Sugar Taxation

As the debate on sugar, diet and obesity rages on, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has thrown its has into the ring.

The authoritative health organisation has stated its support for the introduction of a sugar tax in soft drinks.

This opinion forms part of a major report on the childhood obesity, with sugary drinks fingered as a major contributor to this phenomenon.

The move increases pressure on the UK government, as it prepares to issue its own strategy for tackling obesity in the UK.

Although there have been critics of the idea of a sugar tax, and the idea has previously bombed in Germany, the World Health Organisation outlines the arguments in favour of the idea in its recent report.

The WHO’s Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity indicates that there is significant evidence suggesting that a sugar tax can have a strong influence on childhood obesity, when combined with other measures.

In addition to the sugar tax, the organisation also suggests that tackling portion sizes and improving food labelling would be beneficial for consumers.

The WHO believes that if countries fail to act sufficiently in order to address the existing situation that the medical, social and economic consequences will be of major magnitude.

Junk food is also targeted by the report, with the WHO suggesting that the marketing of fast food to children should be clamped down on in particular.

The suggestion is also mooted for schools to completely ban the sale of unhealthy food in their cafeterias.

Recent figures have indicated that the level of obesity in Britain is reaching an extremely unhealthy proportion.

Indeed, the UK is now the second lardiest nation in Europe, with only Hungary having a higher percentage of obesity according to the latest research.

The report states: “Childhood obesity is at crisis level in many countries and poses an urgent and serious challenge. The increasing rates of childhood obesity cannot be ignored and governments need to accept the responsibility to address this issue, on behalf of the children they are ethically bound to protect.”

Current estimates indicate that sugar is responsible for nearly 15% of all calorie intake in UK school-aged children.

And research by the University of Liverpool, which reviewed 22 separate studies, found that food advertising exposure has a massive influence on food consumption.

Dr Emma Boyland, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health & Society, commented that advertising has a particularly pernicious influence.

“Through our analysis of these published studies I have shown that food advertising doesn’t just affect brand preference – it drives consumption. Given that almost all children in Westernised societies are exposed to large amounts of unhealthy food advertising on a daily basis this is a real concern.”

Although Prime Minister David Cameron has yet to commit to a sugar tax, it does seem that the possibility is looming.

This will undoubtedly anger libertarians and those who believe it is both nannying and an ineffective way of addressing the issue of obesity.

 
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Report States that Obesity Epidemic in Young People Remains Massive Issue

Data acquired by the Health and Social Care Information Centre suggests that the obesity epidemic in young people shows no signs of abating.

The report conducted by the organisation suggests that around 10 per cent of children were obese when they began primary school.

Yet this figure had doubled by the time that children leave these schools at the age of around 11.

Figures for obesity in Year 6 continue to rise, despite efforts to educate parents and people in general across the country about the dangers of obesity.

The study also suggested that there are clear demographic issues facing the country as well.

Children living in the most deprived areas were twice as likely to be obese as children in affluent areas.

Figures were acquired as a part of the British government’s National Child Measurement Programme for England which covers all state primary schools.

In Year 6, 19.1 per cent of children were obese; an increase on figures from eight years ago.

In some of the least successful regions, over one-quarter of children in Year 6 were found to be obese.

For example, 28 per cent of Year 6 pupils in Southwark were classed as obese and 44 per cent were either obese or overweight.

Commenting on these disturbing figures, Councillor Barrie Hargrove, Southwark’s cabinet member for public health, indicated that numerous people and groups must take responsibility for directly tackling the issue.

“Childhood obesity is an on-going and long term health issue in the borough with no single solution, and we are already implementing a range of initiatives to combat it, such as our free healthy school meals programme, and free fruit programme, to encourage healthy eating habits. We recognise that we need to do more to support children and their families.”

Wolverhampton had the largest number of obese 10 and 11-year-olds outside London, and Ros Jervis, the City of Wolverhampton Council’s director of public health, is similarly concerned about the problem.

“Obesity is associated with a number of serious medical conditions – so doing nothing is simply not an option.”

Going forward, numerous regions have indicated that action plans will be put in place in order to address the issue.

Information will be provided outlining what both organisations and individuals can do in order to tackle the obesity epidemic.

Additionally, programmes are being put in place with the aim of encouraging families to value nutrition more highly and encourage exercise.

Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Falling rates of obesity in Reception age children is promising, but the fact remains that we now have more children leaving primary school overweight or obese and this is simply unacceptable.”

Although there have been numerous prominent programmes and initiatives undertaken in recent years in an attempt to tackle the obesity crisis, it seems that this is ultimately having little tangible effect.

 
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New Collaborative Study to Seek Obesity Solutions

A study commissioned by Public Health England will examine the obesity epidemic in Britain with the intention of finding lasting solutions.

In particular, researchers at Leeds Beckett University will investigate the best way for local authorities to tackle this growing problem.

Public Health England has worked in collaboration with the Local Government Association, the Association of Directors of Public Health Germany, and with colleagues in local government organisations in commissioning this program.

All of the groups involved will attempt to identify methods that local authorities can use in order to create a holistic approach to tackle obesity.

The program has been funded by Public Health England, and will run over a three-year period.

It is hoped that a cohesive and co-ordinated approach will be developed by experts at the Leeds-based university.

Previous research has indicated that a whole systems approach is essential in addressing the obesity epidemic.

Central to this will be linking a whole range of sectors and influences including planning, housing, transport, children’s and adult’s services, business and health.

By attempting to implement this scheme at the local level, it is hoped that local authorities across the country will be able to make significant inroads into the obesity battle.

Although there are obvious health benefits to winning this particular struggle, it is also suggested that tackling obesity effectively can improve quality of life, save money for local authorities, and even contribute to sustained prosperity for regions across the country.

The Leeds Beckett’s team will work closely alongside a number of pilot local authorities to understand their perspectives and the realities for local government.

Capturing best practice, the importance of collaborative working, and the co-ordination  of new and innovative approaches to obesity will all be floated as part of the overarching scheme.

Researchers at the university will be carrying out a systematic review of research evidence on the subject of obesity, while also gathering experience of dealing with the problem from across the world, thus gathering a raft of good practice case studies.

The Leeds Beckett team and the pilot local authorities will then create a process and develop a roadmap and practical strategies for local authorities to apply in practice, in order to address the current high levels of obesity.

Speaking about the programme, Pinki Sahota, Professor of Nutrition & Childhood Obesity at Leeds Beckett, outlined its importance.

“Obesity is a major global health crisis and tackling obesity is a complex and multifaceted problem. Local Authorities are investing great efforts into tackling these issues but clearly they are enthusiastic to do more and gain the benefits that come from a healthier population. 

“All the evidence shows that if we can link together many of the influencing factors on obesity by coordinating action and integration across multiple sectors, including health, social care, planning, housing, transport and business, then we can bring about major change to combatting obesity, making better use of resources and improving wellbeing and prosperity,” Sahota asserted.

The Health Survey for England indicated recently that 62.1 percent of UK adults are overweight or obese (67.1 percent of men and 57.2 percent of women).

 
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NHS England Publishes New Nutritional and Hydration Guidance

NHS England has published a set of new guidelines intended to ensure that patients receive outstanding nutrition and hydration care while in hospital.

The guidance is particularly intended to address issues raised within ‘Hard Truths’ and the Francis Report.

‘Hard Truths: The Journey to Putting Patients First’ is the first volume of the government’s response to the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry.

This followed on from the so-called Francis Report, which followed an extensive inquiry into failings at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

Robert Francis QC published his final report on 6th February 2013.

With this in mind, NHS England has moved to address the concerns of patients, carers and the public with regard to malnutrition and dehydration.

Although many people may not associate malnutrition with an advanced Western society such as the UK, the occurrence of this debilitating nutritional condition is actually surprisingly common.

Malnutrition in fact effects in the region of three million people in the UK at any given time.

Furthermore, around one-in-three patients admitted to hospital, or who are currently resident in care homes, are either malnourished or at risk of developing the condition.

Nutrition and hydration also has a significant influence over the recovery potential of patients.

It also tends to increase the number of people who are admitted to both hospitals and care homes.

Thus, the new guidance draws together the most up-to-date evidence-based resources and research available on the subject.

The guidance has the intention of supporting health commissioners, and communicating strategies to be developed that will help to ensure outstanding nutrition and hydration care in acute services across the health service.

There is also information contained within the guidance outlining the importance of this issue, and why commissioners should look to make it a particular priority.

How to tackle the problem and how to assess the impact of commissioned services are both addressed, while highlighting the good work which is already underway is also a focus of the guidance.

Commenting on this issue, Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England, was keen to outline its importance.

“The link between nutrition and hydration and a person’s health is a fundamental part of any stage of life, but all the more so for the sick or vulnerable. Person-focused, quality compassionate care involves looking at what matters to a person as a whole, not only concentrating on their specific medical condition.”

Cummings also spoke on the goals of the new documentation.

“The aim of this new guidance is to raise awareness around the need for good nutrition and hydration and recognise we all have a role to play in improving the health and well-being of those in our care,” Cummings stated.

Dianne Jeffrey, Chair of the Malnutrition Task Force and Chairman of Age UK, was in agreement on the importance of the issues addressed by the guidance.

“There are countless reasons why we need to take nutrition and hydration issues seriously. People, particularly older people’ who are malnourished and dehydrated are more likely to become ill, will take longer to recover from surgery and illness and have longer stays in hospital. Yet despite these compelling reasons to take action, recent reports still show nutrition and hydration are not a top priority in many care settings,” Jeffrey commented.

The new guidance was developed in collaboration with NHS clinical commissioning groups, local authorities, patient groups, expert nutrition groups; representatives from the catering industry, the Care Quality Commission, NHS Trust Development Authority, the Department of Health, as well as people who use healthcare services and their carers.

 
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Hospitals Failing to Strike Right Note on Nutrition

A survey carried out by The Observer newspaper suggests that hospitals in the NHS are sending out a mixed message by stocking vending machines with unhealthy food and drinks.

According to the survey of hospital trusts in England, all of the 76 trusts who responded sold confectionary and salty snacks, while as many as half failed to offer plain dried or fresh fruit.

And of the 60 trusts that provided information related to soft drinks, only two – the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust and the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust – have restricted the availability of fizzy drinks to diet versions.

It should be said in mitigation that diet fizzy drinks have come under as much criticism as their full sugar equivalents, with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame being linked with a wide variety of health problems.

Whether diet fizzy drinks would actually be healthier than full sugar variants is debatable. What could be said is that water or some form of pure fruit juice would be a considerably superior option to any form of soda.

Hospitals have come under pressure to improve the quality of food on offer to patients and staff, as it has become increasingly clear that the nutritional value of food served in hospitals is sometimes negligible.

Only last month, Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, called on hospitals to improve the quality of food being offered, and to serve healthy options in restaurants, cafes and vending machines.

The health regulator Nice has already advised that only 20 per cent of vending machine drinks should be sweetened by significant amounts of sugar.

Additionally, sweetened drinks should be sold in site is no greater than 330ml.

But Freedom of information requests issued by The Guardian indicate that most of us in the UK are in fact ignoring these regulations.

For example, vending machines at the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust offer nineteen different varieties of sugary soft drinks or juice drinks and two flavoured milk-shake drinks.

Speaking on behalf of the National Obesity Forum, Tam Fry stated that hospitals needed to more reflect an ethos of healthy eating.

“They’re stoking up business for themselves; particularly with obesity and diabetes, you don’t want to see more of them [patients]; you want to see fewer. One of the ways to see more is to ply them with sugary drinks,” Fry opined.

Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at Oxford, suggested that pricing is also an issue.

“The problem is that the choice is biased in favour of the less healthy option by price, availability and portion size. Even the manufacturers say that if you take those bottles of sugary drinks it’s not one serving, it’s two – so why have we got 500ml bottles in vending machines, which are supposed to be about single-unit purchases?”

In May, 2014, it was reported that the UK is one of the most obese countries in Europe.

The UK has higher levels of obesity and overweight people than anywhere in western Europe except for Iceland and Malta according to the Global Burden of Disease study.

 
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Scottish Health Survey Results Vindicate BMA View on Nutrition

In response to a recent British Medical Association (BMA) survey, a new piece of research suggests that there is significant room for improvement with regard to childhood nutrition in the UK.

The publication of the Scottish Health Survey for 2014 has underlined just how few children in the nation are consuming the recommended quantities of fruit and vegetables; a handy reminder after the BMA research of just a few weeks ago.

This extensive research of health trends in Scotland found that less than one-in-seven children in Scotland currently consume the recommended five daily portions of fruit and / or vegetables.

The survey regarding free fruit and vegetables was conducted on behalf of the BMA by Ipsos MORI, between 12th and 31st August 2015, with 2,000 parents interviewed online.

And despite the highly publicised five-a-day fruit and vegetable campaign, the study indicates that eating habits have not improved at all.

Since 2003, there has been no increase in the amount of fruit and vegetables being consumed by children in Scotland, with an average of 2.8 portions being maintained during this period. This is obviously little more than half of the recommended quantity.

The news comes in the context of the BMA publishing an online opinion poll of 2,000 parents across the United Kingdom.

This survey indicated that more than three-quarters would support the introduction of a free portion of fruit or vegetables for every primary age schoolchild.

Commenting on the disappointing figures, Dr Andrew Thomson, who sits on the BMA board of  science, stated that the trends indicated by the Scottish health survey are rather worrying.

“This latest survey shows that Scotland is still falling some way short when it comes to making sure children are eating enough fruit and vegetables. Despite the growing cost of obesity related conditions to the NHS, there has been no real improvement to the average amount of fruit and vegetables consumed by children in Scotland for over a decade,” Thomson asserted.

Following up from the earlier research from the BMA, Thomson also suggested one possible way of addressing the chasm in fruit and vegetable consumption.

“Introducing an entitlement for all primary school pupils to receive a free portion of fruit or vegetables on every school day would be a real step forward and would help to ensure children in Scotland live healthier lives,” Thomson stated.

Although there are many factors leading to the obesity epidemic in the western world, certainly poor diet is generally considered to be the major contributor.

Despite various efforts to promote healthy eating among young people, there are numerous indicators which suggest that childhood obesity is a ticking timebomb in the UK.

Most recently, University College London researchers looked at data from more than 56,000 people born in Britain between 1946 and 2001, and found that the ages at which children are becoming obese continue to fall.

 
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Poll Indicates Support for BMA Fruit and Veg Campaign

A new poll instigated by the British Medical Association indicates that the majority of people would back the introduction of a free portion of fruit and / or vegetables for older primary school pupils.

The Ipsos MORI survey of 2,000 parents across the UK found that 79 per cent of people would strongly support or tend to support the measure, while just 5 per cent would tend to oppose or are strongly opposed to it.

Although the concept of providing free fruit and vegetables may seem to be a fanciful notion there  are in fact is already precedents within the United Kingdom.

Eleven local authorities in Scotland currently provide some form of free fruit and vegetables above what is routinely provided in terms of school dinners.

However, although this may appear to be a positive development, in reality it represents something of a retraction from previous positions.

As recently as 2013/14, sixteen local authorities in Scotland had schemes in place, thus there has been a significant reduction over the last two years alone.

But the fact that schemes are already operating successfully in Scotland does suggest that it would be possible for free fruit and vegetables to be offered on a wide scale basis within the United Kingdom.

The BMA-backed survey comes in the context of the recent Food for Thought report, published in July.

This report suggested that all primary age pupils should be provided with a free portion of fruit and / or vegetables on every school day.

There are also suggestions related to the regulations on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, and a tax on sugary drinks was also advocated, suggesting that this could help subsidise a fund for free fruit and vegetables.

The notion of taxing sugary drink, though, has not been supported by all people, regardless of the negative health impact of soda and other guilty parties in general.

It is suggested that taxing these products is not actually addressing the consumption of sugary drinks, and will instead ensure that in many cases poorer members of society simply pay more for products.

However, making this clear link between the subsidisation of fruit and vegetables, effectively providing a free service to children, as a payoff for taxing sugary drinks, could make the policy seen more palatable to its detractors.

Commenting on the results from the survey, Dr Andrew Thomson, who sits on the BMA’s Board of Science strongly advocated the policy suggested by the British Medical Association.

“We need to redouble our efforts to ensure that children are eating healthily and this poll shows clear public backing for ensuring that all primary school children get access to a free portion of fruit or vegetables. Providing primary school pupils with free fruit or vegetables means that they are less likely to eat unhealthy snacks between meals and helps to build positive habits that can last throughout their lives,” Thomson asserted.

Thomson also believes that further pressure and activism is required in order to motivate the government to respond to public opinion.

“It is concerning that several local authorities have actually scrapped the provision of free fruit and vegetables in schools in recent years. Action is needed to address this variation and ensure that primary school pupils in all parts of the country benefit equally from free fruit and vegetables,” Thomson opined.

Obesity in children has been growing to such an extent in recent years that it is frequently described as an epidemic.

While one extra portion of fruit and vegetables a day would hardly reverse this situation, it is hoped by the BMA that it could make a contribution to children making healthier food choices.

 
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Two New Diet Studies Offer Obesity And Breast Cancer Hope

Two recent academic studies give valuable insight into diet that could have a significant impact on the obesity epidemic.

The first of the two studies was conducted at Cambridge University, and indicated that portion size and human perception could be having a significant impact on our collective weight.

Researchers from the esteemed university found that offering super-sized portions or serving food on a larger plate led to participants in the study eating significantly more.

Even those who were conscientious about the amount that they ate were susceptible to consume large amounts when bigger portions were offered, according to the Cambridge-authored research.

The conclusions from the Cambridge researchers would seem to be logical, considering the amount of time that it takes for the hypothalamus to register the fact that we no longer require food.

Research from Cambridge suggested that if the general public was exposed to smaller portions across all aspects of diet, it would be possible to cut food consumption by 16 per cent.

This would amount to approximately 1,900 calories per week, which would mean a potential loss in weight of a pound every fortnight.

Dr Gareth Hollands, of Cambridge’s Behaviour and Health Research Unit, who co-led the study, suggested that the results indicate that overeating may not merely be due to a lack of self-control.

“Helping people to avoid ‘overserving’ themselves or others with larger portions of food or drink by reducing their size, availability and appeal in shops, restaurants and in the home, is likely to be a good way of helping lots of people to reduce their risk of overeating,” Hollands stated.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, commented that it is important for people to keep a keen eye on portion size considering the rather worrying statistics related to obesity.

“Given that almost two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, it’s important to keep an eye on portion sizes when cooking, shopping and eating out to avoid overeating and help maintain a healthy weight,” Dr. Tedstone asserted.

The findings from the Cambridge study were published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

Additionally, a study assessing the so-called Mediterranean diet concluded that it has the potential to reduce the risk of breast cancer by two-thirds.

The Mediterranean diet is particularly characterised by olive oil, and is consumed by countries including Italy and Greece.

It also involves swapping butter for oils, and producing meat intake in favour of more fish. Increased proportions of fruit and vegetables are also central to this diet.

Researchers found that those who follow the Mediterranean diet had a 68% lower risk of malignant breast cancer than those who consumed a low-fat diet.

Commenting on the results, lead author, Miguel A Martínez-González, said: “The results of the trial suggest a beneficial effect of a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil in the primary prevention of breast cancer. Nevertheless, these results need confirmation by long-term studies with a higher number of incident cases.”

There were nearly 12,000 deaths from breast cancer in the UK in 2012.

 
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NHS England Launches New Initiative to Address Staff Absences

NHS England has today announced an initiative intended to impact positively on the health and wellbeing of staff in the service.

The Chief Executive of NHS England, , will outline the plans aimed at the organisation’s 1.3 million employees speaking at the NHS Innovation Expo conference.

Measures introduced as part of these plans will include serving healthier food, promoting physical activity, reducing stress, and providing health checks covering mental health and musculoskeletal problems.

These latter two issues are purportedly the largest causes of illness absences in the NHS. Overall absences in the health service are estimated to cost the taxpayer £2.4 billion per year. To put this figure into perspective, this amounts to approximately 2.5 per cent of the total NHS budget.

Three principles will be at the heart of this new health initiative. Firstly, there will be a major drive intended to promote improved NHS staff health. This will be conducted by a group of leading NHS hospital, mental health, ambulance, community and clinical commissioning group employers, and partnered with NHS Employers and Public Health England.

Secondly, a new occupational health service will be particularly targeted at GPs; a tranche of the NHS that particularly suffers from high levels of stress and burnout owing to long hours. This aspect of the programme will be partnered with the Royal College of GPs and BMA General Practitioners Committee.

And, thirdly, there will be a specific focus on catering, with the aim of delivering healthier food options within the NHS. In order to achieve this, NHS England will work closely with Public Health England.

Speaking on the new initiative, Stevens stated that “NHS staff have some of the most critical but demanding jobs in the country. When it comes to supporting the health of our own workforce, frankly the NHS needs to put its own house in order.

“At a time when arguably the biggest operational challenge facing hospitals is converting overspends on temporary agency staff into attractive flexible permanent posts, creating healthy and supportive workplaces is no longer a nice to have, it’s a must-do.

“And at a time when the pressures on GPs have never been greater, we need to extend the local practitioner health programmes that have been shown to help GPs stay healthy and get back to work when sick.

“Equally, it’s time for PFI contractors and catering firms to ‘smell the coffee’ – ditch junk food from hospitals and serve up affordable and healthy options instead. Staff, patients and visitors alike will all benefit.”

However, the approach to addressing the issue has been criticised in some quarters.

By implementing this new approach to health within the NHS, the health service is explicitly acknowledging that working within the clinical professions is becoming increasingly stressful. When this is combined with the relentless pursuit of cost saving measures, attempting to squeeze ever more juice from already stretched resources, then this inevitably results in more sickness absences.

Some have suggested that this an unsustainable situation that must be addressed directly, rather than merely attempting to alleviate problems with measures that singularly fail to tackle the root cause of the issue head-on.

Additionally, the overall budget for the scheme is £5 million, which when spread across the 200 trusts in the NHS ultimately represents a rather paltry figure, considering that the average trust typically employs around 5,000 people. One can calculate that this initiative will represent little more than a few pounds investment per member of staff.

Nonetheless, Christina McAnea, UNISON Head of Health and chair of the NHS Social Partnership Forum, was still willing to publicly acknowledged what she considered to be a positive development. McAnea commented that “the health and well-being of NHS staff at work has a direct impact on patients and this initiative rightly starts recognising that. Addressing physical and mental health issues is important and a step in the right direction as it will help tackle some of the major causes of stress at work.”

 
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