Vend­ing ma­chines in UAE hos­pi­tals are serv­ing junk food


Gulf News - - Front Page - BY JUMANA AL TAMIMI As­so­ci­ate Ed­i­tor

When Fa­tima Bint Saif, a grand­mother, re­cently took her 6-yearold sick grand­daugh­ter to a hos­pi­tal’s emer­gency ward, she was sur­prised to see a vend­ing ma­chine in the wait­ing area full of ev­ery­thing that her lit­tle one shouldn’t eat or drink: chips, choco­lates, sugar-loaded canned juices and cakes, among other junk food items.

There were no sal­ads, or even light sand­wiches, let alone gluten-free or sugar-free items.

“I asked the staffer: does this vend­ing ma­chine that you have placed in front of the chil­dren’s eyes have healthy or un­healthy items?”

“Not healthy,” was the re­sponse.

“So why you have put it here?”

The grand­mother was promised by the staffer that her com­plaint would be shared higher up.

But that didn’t stop the child cry­ing for the items on dis­play. “In a wait­ing area there are many chil­dren with their fam­i­lies and no one wants to hear a cry­ing child, so I had to meet her wish, but when I bought my grand­daugh­ter the bis­cuits she wanted, it came to the last bis­cuit and an­other child wanted it too, and he started cry­ing as well.”

This is not Fa­tima’s first ex­pe­ri­ence. Last year, she also found a sim­i­lar vend­ing ma­chine in a trauma sec­tion of an­other hos­pi­tal when she took her grand­child. She was equally fu­ri­ous and com­plained to the hos­pi­tal’s man­age­ment.

Ex­pert speak

“Hos­pi­tals should pay more at­ten­tion to the qual­ity of food items be­ing of­fered to pa­tients’ rel­a­tives or vis­i­tors,” Na­dine An­dari Hal­abi, a Dubai-based clin­i­cal di­eti­tian, told Gulf News.

“Healthy items should be on dis­play next to some un­healthy op­tions, but it’s 100 per cent im­por­tant that there must be healthy items,” said An­dari, who is a mem­ber of the Academy of Nu­tri­tion and Di­etet­ics and holds a master’s de­gree in Clin­i­cal Nu­tri­tion.

“Most of the time, peo­ple opt for healthy prod­ucts when they are avail­able,” she said.

One staffer in a pri­vate­ly­owned med­i­cal fa­cil­ity ex­plained to Gulf News that usu­ally man­age­ments rent spa­ces for dif­fer­ent re­tail­ers to sell dif­fer­ent food items.

“Pa­tient’s food is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of hos­pi­tals but cafés tar­get rel­a­tives and vis­i­tors,” said the staffer, un­der con­di­tion of anonymity.

Cafés in hos­pi­tals don’t fall un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of Dubai Health Au­thor­ity, but un­der Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

How­ever, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s Food Safety Depart­ment ex­plained that the “Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s role is to en­sure food safety and hy­giene. The mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s Food In­spec­tion Sec­tion con­ducts reg­u­lar in­spec­tions in all food out­lets in Dubai,” ac­cord­ing to a Mu­nic­i­pal­ity state­ment sent to Gulf News.

Healthy items should also be avail­able at af­ford­able prices, be­cause high prices con­sti­tute a bar­rier for many peo­ple to buy such items.

How­ever, at the same time, “You can’t force peo­ple to have healthy food, and there is a need for aware­ness cam­paigns to achieve such a goal,” An­dari said.

Par­ents play an im­por­tant role in ed­u­cat­ing their chil­dren to have bet­ter choices by them­selves, ac­cord­ing to doc­tors. The per­cent­age of di­a­betic peo­ple in the UAE reached 11.8 per cent in 2017.

Dr Ab­dul Raz­zaq Al Madani, con­sul­tant in medicine and en­docrinol­ogy and Pres­i­dent of Emi­rates Di­a­betes said in a city like Dubai that is open for trade and busi­ness, it is not pos­si­ble to tell peo­ple what to sell in vend­ing ma­chines and what not to sell.

Jumana Tamimi/Gulf News

■ Sweets and junk foods be­ing sold at a cafe­te­ria in a hos­pi­tal in Dubai. There were no sal­ads, or even light sand­wiches, let alone gluten-free or sugar-free items.

■ Na­dine An­dari Hal­abi

■ Dr Ab­dul Raz­zaq Al Madani

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