Talking point
Junk the junk

Obesity levels are reaching epidemic proportions, with poor diet choices being one of the contributing factors. Is it time for the health and fitness sector to take the lead and stop serving unhealthy food in its facilities? Kath Hudson reports

By Kath Hudson | Published in Health Club Management 2016 issue 9


here’s a new sugar tax at Sheffield International Venues (SIV). This is the ground-breaking move, announced in July, which will see the trust adding a 20 pence charge to all drinks with added sugar sold at cafés and vending machines across its 11 sports and leisure facilities.

In May 2016, then chancellor George Osborne announced a new sugar tax on the soft drinks industry, aimed at high-sugar drinks – a move endorsed by the health community. The tax, however, isn’t officially expected to come into force until 2018 at the earliest – and SIV’s early move makes it the first leisure operator in the UK to introduce a sugar tax on unhealthy fizzy drinks.

Steve Brailey, CEO of SIV, says the income from the additional levy at SIV facilities will be reinvested in its entirety in obesity and diabetes prevention programmes. “We’re proud to be the first leisure operator in the UK to make this bold move,” he adds.

He continues: “Obesity is a major issue in Sheffield, with more than half of all adults in the city obese or overweight, and this is contributing to an alarming rise in type 2 diabetes.

“By introducing the sugar tax, we hope to shift customer demand from fizzy drinks to healthy alternatives. By reinvesting all money generated through the tax in new health projects, we also hope to further improve the health and wellbeing of Sheffield people.”

So should other operators follow suit or, with pressure on the bottom line and high customer demand for post-workout treats, is this really too tough an ask? We ask the experts.



Tam Fry Child Obesity Forum: Spokesperson

 

Tam Fry
 

With 25 per cent of four-year-olds and a third of 11-year-olds either overweight or obese, we have an emergency on our hands. It’s high time the government took hold of nutrition: making good food cheaper, unhealthy food more expensive, and holding the food industry to account.

However, the health and fitness sector can’t wait until this happens. The industry is promoting healthier lifestyles and behaviour change, so it has a duty to its clients not to tempt them into poor food choices. Every measure should be taken to improve the food offering in clubs, or stop serving food altogether. Too many people reward themselves with an unhealthy treat after exercise, often putting back more calories than they’ve just expended – and by selling junk food, operators are perpetuating this habit.

I appreciate this is even more difficult in times of austerity. Vending machines and processed food are undeniably easy ways for operators to make money and, sadly, even hospitals are relying on the sale of junk food to remain afloat.

Junk food is cheaper and more convenient to sell: 55 snack bars take up the same space as three bananas and have a longer shelf life. It’s also much cheaper to buy in processed food than healthy food, and there’s more demand for it.

However, it’s been shown that it’s also possible to make money selling healthy food. If operators want to be consistent with their message, and make a difference to the nation’s health, they should refuse to sell anything that isn’t healthy.




Craig Lister Managing director The Green Gym

 

Craig Lister
 

I believe it’s unethical to invite people via exercise referral, who have medical conditions exacerbated by sugar intake, into an environment where junk food is both sold and heavily promoted. We wouldn’t surround people who are giving up smoking with cigarettes.

Too much sugar is harmful and often highly addictive; many people suffering from obesity and type 2 diabetes have strong addictions and little willpower when faced with sugary products. We really have to help them, not make things harder for them.

Many of the products currently on offer at health and fitness facilities contain more calories than the average person expends in their average workout. So some people – who have come to the facility to get fitter and healthier – will leave having consumed more calories than they’ve burned. The food offering is getting in the way of operators helping their clients to achieve their health goals.

Equally, eye-level vending machines that target children serve to establish the negative habit of eating sugar after exercise. With childhood obesity already such an issue, those in the business of promoting a healthy lifestyle should not being doing this.

Healthy food can work as an option. Franchising out either the whole operation to a local operator, or buying in from local operators, are both ways that are proven to work.

When I was group health and fitness manager at Jubilee Hall [a leisure trust in London], we franchised the café out to someone who was able to offer healthy rice and pasta dishes. It was so successful that people would come for lunch even if they weren’t working out at the club. I’d like to see operators offering healthier sandwiches and tasty, appetising fruit salads. Even without a lot of effort, healthy food can look fantastic and deliver a healthy profit margin.

The industry now has excellent staff, qualifications, facilities and equipment, but the food offering is all too frequently letting us down. It’s the last barrier the sector has to a closer relationship with the healthcare sector: it sends out the wrong messages and gets in the way of the sector reaching its potential.


"It’s unethical to invite people with medical conditions exacerbated by sugar into an environment where junk food is sold and heavily promoted" – Craig Lister



Craig Senior Group food, beverage and retail manager MyActive

 

Craig Senior
 

With all of our decisions, we consult staff and members – and the message that consistently comes back to us is that people want choice. Some families allow their kids to have sweets after swimming and that’s their treat of the week. We don’t want to take away that choice.

 However, we have made unhealthy options more expensive in order to subsidise the healthy options: we’ve lowered the price of fruit and some healthy items are sold at cost. People often associate fresh with expensive, but we want to change that.

We try to make the healthy options as appealing as possible and have introduced a menu that allows people to pick and choose healthy foods to create a meal, such as seared chicken breast, salmon or halloumi with a carb and a vegetable. This is also offered to children, with a ‘Super Dudes’ menu to try and educate them to make the right food choices.

In addition, we take care to source the best quality ingredients and regularly update staff training to ensure food is cooked in the healthiest way – for example, grilled or griddled rather than fried.

Meanwhile, by placing fruit pots, yoghurts and granola bars on the counter as opposed to confectionery, we aim to point our clients in the right direction. Similarly, fruit platters are offered at children’s parties rather than crisps. 

However, we see our role as educating and helping, not preaching. We don’t want to make our clients feel guilty about things and we try to offer choice for all, rather than focusing on particular demographics.




Gareth Dix Health and Wellbeing Manager Tempus Leisure

 

Gareth Dix
 

I think we should be aspiring to ban all unhealthy food and junk food from leisure centres and health clubs, and Tempus would definitely like to be part of that movement, but it can’t be achieved in isolation. It needs to be part of a joined-up effort from all public health venues, including hospitals.

Nationwide, there needs to be a bigger push towards healthy eating, including a review of sports sponsorship and junk food marketing. Children bring Gatorade into our centres to drink because they’ve been watching their idols drinking it during the European football championships.

Our approach to food and beverage is to be customer-led, but we’ve made an effort to promote the healthier options and gradually phase out unhealthy options. Some of our centres no longer sell chips, for example. All that said, we live in a customer-orientated world and we need to give our customers what they want – and some like the convenience of vending machines. However, we’re continually looking into healthy options for vending – and we always aim to vend bottled water as an alternative to soft drinks.


"I think we should aspire to ban unhealthy food from health clubs, but it can’t be achieved in isolation. It needs to be part of a joined-up effort "– Gareth Dix

Vending machines in clubs typically sell unhealthy, sugar-filled junk food and drinks Credit: PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
People may eat more calories than they burn if they opt for an unhealthy post-workout snack Credit: PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Health Club Management
2016 issue 9

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Leisure Management - Junk the junk

Talking point

Junk the junk


Obesity levels are reaching epidemic proportions, with poor diet choices being one of the contributing factors. Is it time for the health and fitness sector to take the lead and stop serving unhealthy food in its facilities? Kath Hudson reports

Kath Hudson
Junk the junk PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
Vending machines in clubs typically sell unhealthy, sugar-filled junk food and drinks PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
People may eat more calories than they burn if they opt for an unhealthy post-workout snack PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

here’s a new sugar tax at Sheffield International Venues (SIV). This is the ground-breaking move, announced in July, which will see the trust adding a 20 pence charge to all drinks with added sugar sold at cafés and vending machines across its 11 sports and leisure facilities.

In May 2016, then chancellor George Osborne announced a new sugar tax on the soft drinks industry, aimed at high-sugar drinks – a move endorsed by the health community. The tax, however, isn’t officially expected to come into force until 2018 at the earliest – and SIV’s early move makes it the first leisure operator in the UK to introduce a sugar tax on unhealthy fizzy drinks.

Steve Brailey, CEO of SIV, says the income from the additional levy at SIV facilities will be reinvested in its entirety in obesity and diabetes prevention programmes. “We’re proud to be the first leisure operator in the UK to make this bold move,” he adds.

He continues: “Obesity is a major issue in Sheffield, with more than half of all adults in the city obese or overweight, and this is contributing to an alarming rise in type 2 diabetes.

“By introducing the sugar tax, we hope to shift customer demand from fizzy drinks to healthy alternatives. By reinvesting all money generated through the tax in new health projects, we also hope to further improve the health and wellbeing of Sheffield people.”

So should other operators follow suit or, with pressure on the bottom line and high customer demand for post-workout treats, is this really too tough an ask? We ask the experts.



Tam Fry Child Obesity Forum: Spokesperson

 

Tam Fry
 

With 25 per cent of four-year-olds and a third of 11-year-olds either overweight or obese, we have an emergency on our hands. It’s high time the government took hold of nutrition: making good food cheaper, unhealthy food more expensive, and holding the food industry to account.

However, the health and fitness sector can’t wait until this happens. The industry is promoting healthier lifestyles and behaviour change, so it has a duty to its clients not to tempt them into poor food choices. Every measure should be taken to improve the food offering in clubs, or stop serving food altogether. Too many people reward themselves with an unhealthy treat after exercise, often putting back more calories than they’ve just expended – and by selling junk food, operators are perpetuating this habit.

I appreciate this is even more difficult in times of austerity. Vending machines and processed food are undeniably easy ways for operators to make money and, sadly, even hospitals are relying on the sale of junk food to remain afloat.

Junk food is cheaper and more convenient to sell: 55 snack bars take up the same space as three bananas and have a longer shelf life. It’s also much cheaper to buy in processed food than healthy food, and there’s more demand for it.

However, it’s been shown that it’s also possible to make money selling healthy food. If operators want to be consistent with their message, and make a difference to the nation’s health, they should refuse to sell anything that isn’t healthy.




Craig Lister Managing director The Green Gym

 

Craig Lister
 

I believe it’s unethical to invite people via exercise referral, who have medical conditions exacerbated by sugar intake, into an environment where junk food is both sold and heavily promoted. We wouldn’t surround people who are giving up smoking with cigarettes.

Too much sugar is harmful and often highly addictive; many people suffering from obesity and type 2 diabetes have strong addictions and little willpower when faced with sugary products. We really have to help them, not make things harder for them.

Many of the products currently on offer at health and fitness facilities contain more calories than the average person expends in their average workout. So some people – who have come to the facility to get fitter and healthier – will leave having consumed more calories than they’ve burned. The food offering is getting in the way of operators helping their clients to achieve their health goals.

Equally, eye-level vending machines that target children serve to establish the negative habit of eating sugar after exercise. With childhood obesity already such an issue, those in the business of promoting a healthy lifestyle should not being doing this.

Healthy food can work as an option. Franchising out either the whole operation to a local operator, or buying in from local operators, are both ways that are proven to work.

When I was group health and fitness manager at Jubilee Hall [a leisure trust in London], we franchised the café out to someone who was able to offer healthy rice and pasta dishes. It was so successful that people would come for lunch even if they weren’t working out at the club. I’d like to see operators offering healthier sandwiches and tasty, appetising fruit salads. Even without a lot of effort, healthy food can look fantastic and deliver a healthy profit margin.

The industry now has excellent staff, qualifications, facilities and equipment, but the food offering is all too frequently letting us down. It’s the last barrier the sector has to a closer relationship with the healthcare sector: it sends out the wrong messages and gets in the way of the sector reaching its potential.


"It’s unethical to invite people with medical conditions exacerbated by sugar into an environment where junk food is sold and heavily promoted" – Craig Lister



Craig Senior Group food, beverage and retail manager MyActive

 

Craig Senior
 

With all of our decisions, we consult staff and members – and the message that consistently comes back to us is that people want choice. Some families allow their kids to have sweets after swimming and that’s their treat of the week. We don’t want to take away that choice.

 However, we have made unhealthy options more expensive in order to subsidise the healthy options: we’ve lowered the price of fruit and some healthy items are sold at cost. People often associate fresh with expensive, but we want to change that.

We try to make the healthy options as appealing as possible and have introduced a menu that allows people to pick and choose healthy foods to create a meal, such as seared chicken breast, salmon or halloumi with a carb and a vegetable. This is also offered to children, with a ‘Super Dudes’ menu to try and educate them to make the right food choices.

In addition, we take care to source the best quality ingredients and regularly update staff training to ensure food is cooked in the healthiest way – for example, grilled or griddled rather than fried.

Meanwhile, by placing fruit pots, yoghurts and granola bars on the counter as opposed to confectionery, we aim to point our clients in the right direction. Similarly, fruit platters are offered at children’s parties rather than crisps. 

However, we see our role as educating and helping, not preaching. We don’t want to make our clients feel guilty about things and we try to offer choice for all, rather than focusing on particular demographics.




Gareth Dix Health and Wellbeing Manager Tempus Leisure

 

Gareth Dix
 

I think we should be aspiring to ban all unhealthy food and junk food from leisure centres and health clubs, and Tempus would definitely like to be part of that movement, but it can’t be achieved in isolation. It needs to be part of a joined-up effort from all public health venues, including hospitals.

Nationwide, there needs to be a bigger push towards healthy eating, including a review of sports sponsorship and junk food marketing. Children bring Gatorade into our centres to drink because they’ve been watching their idols drinking it during the European football championships.

Our approach to food and beverage is to be customer-led, but we’ve made an effort to promote the healthier options and gradually phase out unhealthy options. Some of our centres no longer sell chips, for example. All that said, we live in a customer-orientated world and we need to give our customers what they want – and some like the convenience of vending machines. However, we’re continually looking into healthy options for vending – and we always aim to vend bottled water as an alternative to soft drinks.


"I think we should aspire to ban unhealthy food from health clubs, but it can’t be achieved in isolation. It needs to be part of a joined-up effort "– Gareth Dix


Originally published in Health Club Management 2016 issue 9

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