Perth Children’s Hospital food court slammed by public health advocates for offering burgers, fries
A food outlet at the newly opened Perth Children’s Hospital (PCH) has drawn the ire of public health advocates, who say they are “very disappointed” high-fat and high-sugar foods are being sold in a health facility.
The outlet, called Threepenny, is selling burgers, fries, soft-serve ice cream, nuggets and “supershakes” to visitors and staff.
Located with two other outlets in the hospital’s only food hall, Threepenny is described on a health department website as serving “classic family favourite menu items with a healthy twist”.
The ABC has also been told the hospital’s four vending machines are stocked with “junk” food.
Public Health Advocacy Institute of Western Australia director Melissa Stoneham said the situation was “very disappointing”.
“It does seem sensible that a facility that is looking after people’s health actually provides the food which would make them healthy, rather than unhealthy,” Dr Stoneham said.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) is also concerned, describing the food outlet as “completely inappropriate” for a health facility.
State president Omar Khorshid said it was “very disappointing that in this beautiful new hospital … the Government has not taken the opportunity to really send a strong message to the community about the importance of healthy eating”.
Healthy food quota ‘not applied’
According to the Health Department, all hospitals are meant to abide by the Healthy Options WA: Food and Nutrition policy, which states that food and drink outlets in hospitals must include a minimum of 50 per cent “healthy” foods.
The policy uses a “traffic light” labelling system, similar to that used in school canteens.
Half of all food and drinks sold must be “green” — low in saturated fat, added sugar and salt — with a maximum of 20 per cent “red” (unhealthy) foods.
There are three outlets in the Perth Children’s Hospital food hall, plus two cafes on separate floors. (Facebook: Sitting Pretty Furniture)
Health Minister Roger Cook said the policy was “technically mandatory”, but it had not “been observed or applied in any uniform or rigorous way” since it was introduced.
In early May, the Minister wrote to public hospitals, giving them a six-month deadline to comply with the policy.
“I’m confident that all the hospitals certainly support the policy and it’s just a matter of reminding them that it’s not an option,” Mr Cook said.
“This isn’t a question of taking a stick to the hospitals, this is about helping the hospitals continue to be leaders of wellbeing and healthy lifestyles in our communities.”
He said the selection of food retailers was an operational matter for the hospital’s leadership.
“You can have burgers being sold in the institution, but you can’t have burgers everywhere,” he said.
“It’s a matter of getting the balance right.”
Food is balanced: cafe operator
There are five food outlets at PCH, along with the four vending machines.
Four of those outlets, including Threepenny, are operated by WA Hospitality, which also runs cafes in Fiona Stanley Hospital and at Armadale-Kelmscott Memorial Hospital.
General manager Alicia Mule said she believed all four outlets complied with government policy.
“We went through a … pretty rigorous process with them before we opened to make sure that every item and … everything was balanced so that we had not too many red items, no more than 20 per cent, and that we had well over 50 per cent of green items.”
Traffic light food labelling allows food to be classified in terms of its health benefits. (Consumer Voice)
Ms Mule said the company had worked with the WA School Canteen Association to plan the hospital menus, and received tips on how to comply with the rules.
“You can reduce portion sizes, for example, and that will make it a more compliant product, or if you have more green items then that’s going to bring it to over 50 per cent.”
Dr Khorshid said the current policy had “demonstrably failed to make any difference when it comes to healthy options in hospital canteens”.
“The hospitals actually need help to force their retailers to change and the only place that’s going to come from, the only place that leadership is going to come from, is the Minister,” he said.
The AMA wants the Government to ban sugary drinks and foods with poor nutritional value in all hospitals.
“That doesn’t mean that every single outlet has to be selling kale milkshakes. There are healthy options that are actually quite tasty and we’re sure that the retailers can still make plenty of sales,” Dr Khorshid said.