Healthy snacks in hospitals: testing the potential effects of changes in availability

Julia Allan* (Corresponding Author), Shannon Duthie , Maureen Heddle, Fiona McKenzie, Susan Webb, Marie Johnston

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Hospitals offer snacks for sale to patients, staff and visitors.


As food choice is heavily influenced by the options available, the present study (a) audited snack availability and purchase in NHS hospital sites across a large UK city; and (b) tested the potential effects of changes to this availability in an online choice experiment.


In Study 1 (audit), single-serve snacks (n=376) available in 76 hospital food retail units were audited. Purchasing data were obtained from six food retail units over four weeks (27,989 sales). In Study 2 (online experiment), participants (n=159) chose snacks from pictured ranges containing 25% (minority), 50% (equivalent) or 75% (majority) healthy options.


Available single-serve snacks varied markedly in calorie (18–641 kcals), fat (0–39 g), sugar (0.1–76 g) and salt (0–2.9 g). Only 30% of available snacks were healthy options and only 25% of the most commonly purchased snacks were healthy options. In Study 2, snack choice was significantly associated with the availability of healthy options in the choice array (X2 (2)= 59.71, p<.01). More participants made healthy choices when product ranges contained 75% healthy options compared to 50% (p<.01) and 50% healthy options compared with 25% (p<.01).

Conclusions:Healthy snacks are readily available in NHS sites but there is a greater relative variety of unhealthy snack products. Many consumers continue to purchase unhealthy items. Further increasing the availability and variety of healthy options may support consumers to make healthier choices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-327
Number of pages7
JournalNutrition and Health
Issue number3
Early online date26 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgements: The authors would like to thank the food retail staff and managers in each location and the food retailers who provided access to their sales data.
Funding: Study 1 was funded by the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office [CGA/16/17]. Study 2 was conducted while JA was a Royal Society of Edinburgh Sabbatical Grant Holder.
Open access via Sage agreement


  • snacking
  • hospital
  • food choice
  • availability
  • healthy choice


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