Supersized snacks, sweets and chocolates are to be banned in hospitals in England under a growing move to combat the obesity epidemic. NHS England boss Simon Stevens has outlawed large ‘grab bags’ and snacks containing more than 250 calories, warning that healthier options must be available.

The bid to stem a growing crisis in obesity-related health problems - such as preventable diabetes, heart disease and some cancers - is targeted at patients, visitors and staff, including those working night shifts. The new rules will apply to snacks sold in hospital canteens, shops and vending machines, with hospital chiefs having to ensure that four out of five items purchased on their premises do not break the 250 calorie limit, which amounts to one eighth of a woman’s recommended daily intake and one tenth of a man’s.

Unhealthy sandwiches and drinks are also to be targeted as the NHS - Europe’s largest employer - determines to take a lead on the availability of the unhealthy food and drinks fuelling the obesity crisis. Any hospital failing to comply will lose funding ring-fenced for improving the health of staff, patients and visitors.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: “The NHS is now stepping up action to combat the ‘super-size’ snack culture which is causing an epidemic of obesity, preventable diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease and cancer. In place of calorie-laden, sugary snacks, we want to make healthier food an easy option for hospital staff, patients and visitors.”

Checkout price promotions on sugary drinks and foods high in fat, sugar or salt have already been stopped, while ads for unhealthy options are to disappear on NHS premises. Earlier this year, NHS England announced that leading retailers including WH Smith, Marks & Spencer, Greggs and the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) will continue to voluntarily reduce sales of sugary drinks to 10% or less of their total drinks sales within hospitals.

RVS business enterprise manager Andrew Roberts said: “Our shops, cafes and on-ward trolley services in England and Wales meet the current CQUIN requirements and we welcome the decision of NHS England to put these new measurements in place. We took an early lead on the NHS workforce healthy agenda by introducing our Healthier Choices programme and it is already having a significant effect on consumer behaviour.

“In the first quarter of 2017, year-on-year sales of fruit increased by 25%, healthier chilled snacks like salad and sushi by 55% and healthier sweet and savoury snacks like popcorn and dried fruit by 109%. We will be implementing these new guidelines and are hopeful that they will result in healthier food being a more consistent feature in all hospital retailers.”

Having the right type of health insurance can make a stay in hospital much brighter, and some policies even include freshly prepared, healthy meals! Find out more in our series of health insurance guides for you and your family.