human behavior

What NSW hospitals can learn from NYC schools

The New York Times reports that the NY Education Department has banned bake sales in all city schools:

There shall be no cupcakes. No chocolate cake and no carrot cake… not even zucchini bread makes the cut. In an effort to limit how much sugar and fat students put in their bellies at school, the Education Department has effectively banned most bake sales, the lucrative if not quite healthy fund-raising tool for generations of teams and clubs. The change is part of a new wellness policy that also limits what can be sold in vending machines and student-run stores, which use profits to help finance activities like pep rallies and proms.

The ban is in response to the childhood obesity epidemic in New York, where 40% of primary school students are overweight or obese.

Australia is commonly quoted as ranking second behind the United States in adult and childhood obesity, and the government has considered such measures as taxing junk food and banning junk food advertising during children’s television programming.

I have found a disheartening level of disdain for the obese in hospitals – especially amongst some surgeons and anaesthetists who complain about the risks and procedural difficulties involved in anesthetizing and operating on obese patients. I appreciate these difficulties, but the disdain is unkind, unfair and unprofessional. These same physicians, like most humans, make lifestyle choices they know to be harmful to their health (alcohol misuse comes readily to mind…), but to them, indulgence in alcohol is somehow less ignoble than indulgence in junk food and physical inactivity, which they consider responsible for the obesity epidemic.

Given the epidemic in Australia and some doctors’ attitudes about obesity, why is this what my current hospital has to offer in its food outlet?!

Note the reference to “our other delights” on the menu blackboard in the distance. These include meat pies (and I use the word ‘meat’ loosely), all day bacon and egg sandwiches, processed lunch meat sandwiches with bread slathered in butter (unless you specifically request they hold the butter), and lots of pastries…


This particular food outlet is superior to the main outlet, which offers a hot buffet of fried everything. There are some semi-healthy salads and sandwiches on offer, mind you, but they are not the items prominently displayed. More often than not, I leave the hospital for one of those ‘hip’ cafes that sell less greasy food and more palatable sandwiches, and at similar prices. I particularly enjoyed this lunch at a cafe off hospital grounds. It’s not the healthiest choice, but I’ve been trying to find a place in Sydney that sells good bagels and lox for a while now.


And one mustn’t forget the superfluity of vending machines on every hospital floor selling candy bars, Doritos and Coke.

Hospitals have banned smoking on their grounds (though this is poorly enforced), and in so doing have been consistent in their message of the harmfulness of smoking. If we are supposed to take seriously the public health message to eat healthful foods, both public schools and hospitals should be leading the way.

… although I did love a bake sale in high school…

… and my typical lunch in high school was a basket of french fries and an ice cream Snickers bar…

… and I regularly yield to temptation at the hospital vending machines.

Hey, I’m only human.

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