Food as medicine: How Sprink is leading efforts to make hospital food healthier to improve outcomes

Health care workers experience high rates of ill health, which have increased since the COVID-19 pandemic.1 This results in more staff sick days than in any other field, placing strain on the workforce and leading to high levels of burnout, which negatively affects patient care.2 Additionally, in the UK health care system, 60% of nurses and 50% of other health care workers are estimated to be overweight or obese.3 To address these trends, a range of government-led recommendations have been made to employers to improve staff health and wellbeing in the workplace.4 One important component of this response is improving access to healthy food in public spaces such as hospitals. This can help to improve wellbeing, therefore resulting in fewer staff sick days, healthier patients, and reduced health inequalities.5

Notwithstanding the significant health challenges among their own staff, our health care systems tend to focus largely on treating existing conditions rather than proactively working to prevent disease. In England, urgent change has been needed for nearly a decade. The Five Year Forward View, published in 2014, said: “if the nation fails to get serious about

prevention then recent progress in healthy life expectancies will stall, health inequalities will widen, and our ability to fund beneficial new treatments will be crowded-out by the need to spend billions of pounds on wholly avoidable illness.6  Nearly 90% of deaths in England are caused by non-communicable diseases (NCDs), that cannot be directly passed on from person to person.7 NCDs, such as diabetes, mental illnesses, liver disease and heart disease, are associated with lifestyle factors and the food we consume. By implementing preventative interventions, such as improved access to healthier food, significant gains in population health can be achieved, and billions of pounds can be saved.

Given the central role that healthy eating plays in disease prevention, focus should be placed on improving the food environments in our public spaces.8,9 Chief among these are hospitals, which should demonstrate leadership on this issue given the high degree of trust the public places in them. However, sadly many hospitals often do precisely the opposite by allowing concourses packed with outlets selling unhealthy, ultra-processed junk food.10

In response to this challenge, in late 2022, Sprink established the Global Centre for Healthy Food Environments (GCHFE), which aims to support health care organisations to improve their food environments. Our first research report defined Healthy Food Environments in hospitals as “providing a diverse range of accessible and delicious food and drink options which benefit the health of the consumer; have surrounding environments which encourage healthy eating; and serving food produced in a way which is sustainable and ethical for the planet, humans and animals.”11

The Global Centre for Healthy Food Environments focuses on five areas of activity:

  1. Research and Development: We develop multi-stakeholder collaborations to answer pressing research questions in the area of Healthy Food Environments.
  2. Convening: We bring together diverse international stakeholders across our health care systems, working to implement and innovate around Healthy Food Environments.
  3. Education: We develop and deliver training in the creation of Healthy Food Environments.
  4. Health care system-industry partnerships: We broker and facilitate partnerships between health care systems and the food industry, to create transformative food environments.
  5. Decarbonisation: We deliver services that support health care systems to decarbonise their food offerings.

A key pillar of our work is helping to develop a new generation of leaders with expert skills and knowledge about how to create and sustain Healthy Food Environments. To support this vision, and as part of our suite of education products, we have launched the Healthy Food Environments Online Training Programme, which is open for registration and starts on 2nd October 2023. This 12-week programme is interactive and flexible, with a time commitment of 2-3 hours per week, and is delivered by expert faculty from world-leading institutions such as Oxford University, Imperial College London and NHS England. Any professional interested in improving food environments in health care settings can participate, including clinicians, catering professionals, managers, policymakers, food industry representatives and charity workers. 

Register and find out more about the Healthy Food Environments Online Training Programme.

If you have an interest in finding out more about any of the areas of focus, please do contact Dr Ed Maile, Associate Director, Global Centre for Healthy Food Environments ( 



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[2] Tawfik DS, Scheid A, Profit J, Shanafelt T, Trockel M, Adair KC, et al. Evidence relating health care provider burnout and quality of care: A systematic review and meta-analysis [Internet]. U.S. National Library of Medicine; 2019 [cited 2023 May 18]. Available from:

[3] Kyle RG, Wills J, Mahoney C, et al. Obesity prevalence among health care professionals in England: a cross-sectional study using the Health Survey for England. BMJ Open 2017;7:e018498.

[4] Henderson G. PHE’s work to improve workforce wellbeing. Public Health England.

[5]Drewnowski A, Monterrosa EC, de Pee S, Frongillo EA, Vandevijvere S. Shaping physical, economic, and policy components of the food environment to create sustainable healthy diets [Internet]. U.S. National Library of Medicine; [cited 2023 May 19]. Available from:

[6] Five Year forward view – NHS england [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2023 May 31]. Available from:

[7] Annex C: Data on the distribution, determinants and burden of non-communicable diseases in England [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2023 May 31]. Available from:,to%20NCDs%20%5Bfootnote%204%5D.

[8] Renata Micha R. Association between diet and Cardiometabolic Mortality in the United States [Internet]. JAMA Network; 2017 [cited 2023 May 18]. Available from:

[9] Firth J, Gangwisch JE, Borisini A, Wootton RE, Mayer EA. Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing? BMJ. 2020 Jun; 29;369:m2382. Available from:

[10] Allan, Julia, et al. “Mapping the snack and drink landscape in a large UK hospital site.” (2019).

[11] Global Centre for Healthy Food Environments [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 May 19]. Available from:

[12] OECD. Health expenditure and financing [Internet]. 2018. Available from:

Matt Salt

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