People are increasingly eating meals and snacks outside of their home meaning that settings such as restaurants, coffee shops and takeaways businesses can impact on the quality of the food we eat by the choices they offer. Due to the rising levels of obesity and the associated negative impacts on health and well-being of the population in Northern Ireland, it is essential to promote and provide healthier alternatives.
As part of the implementation of Northern Ireland’s obesity strategy, A Fitter Future for All 2012 – 2022, the issue of food provision within health and social care settings was highlighted as an important area for development, both in terms of the food provided but also in leading as an example to others by modelling best practice.
The Public Health Agency, the Food Standards Agency and safefood alongside their delivery partners tasked themselves with developing and implementing new nutritional standards by 2019. The standards will complement the already valuable work being done within the Health and Social Care Trusts and will build on and strengthen activities at a regional level.
Launching the new nutritional standards, the Chief Medical Officer, Michael McBride said: 'Hospital restaurants are where staff as well as visitors-regularly have the main meal of their day. It’s therefore vital that we make the healthier choice the easy choice. And by helping staff to have a healthy diet we can improve their health and wellbeing and also improve productivity and reduce staff absences.
'These nutritional standards are an important step forward in the valuable work by the catering departments within the Health Service to encourage healthier eating among staff and visitors, through providing healthy food. I’m pleased that the Health Service is leading by example and I urge others in the public, private, voluntary and community sectors to implement these standards and improve the health and wellbeing of their staff and ultimately of our population.'
During development, the Food Standards Agency, the Public Health Agency and safefood established a steering group which included dietitians, caterers and procurement managers to review similar projects across the UK and adapt a set of standards for Northern Ireland before being issued for wider consultation.
The new standards for Northern Ireland are food based and have been modelled on the Eatwell Guide and Public Health England’s (PHE) publication 'Healthier and More Sustainable Catering: A toolkit for serving food to adults'. These standards will apply to all facilities serving food or beverages within HSC settings. This includes catering facilities, privately owned retail units and vending machines.
The development of these standards is the first step in the process towards successfully implementing them. The steering group recognises that further engagement, resources and support will be required to achieve this. A dietitian or nutritionist will be recruited to lead on implementation, working closely with both caterers and procurement managers across the sector in developing the necessary tools for compliance.
The vision for these standards is that they will be rolled out across local government services and the wider public sector.