Letters Prisons and health

Availability of junk food should be reduced

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e7070 (Published 24 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7070
  1. Jonathan Tammam, research scientist1,
  2. Louise Gillam, former research assistant1,
  3. Bernard Gesch, senior research scientist1,
  4. John Stein, professor of neuroscience1
  1. 1Department of Physiology, Anatomy, and Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PT, UK
  1. jonathan.tammam{at}dpag.ox.ac.uk

Prison inmates rely on two sources of food—main meals (provided by the prison) and items purchased from the canteen,1 2 the penal equivalent of a convenience store.

Prison meals meet nutritional guidelines, but purchased items—much of it “junk” food—may not.3We analysed macronutrient and energy content of food available in a canteen from a representative young offenders institution. The products typically provided high levels of fats, sugars, and energy. Some products were also relatively high in sodium.

Products tended to lack vitamins, minerals, and fibre, and if eaten instead of nutritious foods could lead to micronutrient deficiencies. Some items contained trans-fats, which have well established implications for cardiac health.

An unrestricted supply of high sugar products may lead to excessive consumption, thereby disrupting metabolic and neurophysiological processes. Proportionately less sugar routed through the non-oxidative glucose metabolic pathway is a predictor of violent impulsive behaviour.4 Excessive daily consumption of confectionary in children may predict criminal violence and convictions in adulthood,5 and increased consumption of sugar sweetened carbonated drinks is associated with violent behaviour in adolescents.6 Importantly, reduced consumption of snack foods is associated with reduced offending and self harm in prison.7 These are important considerations in the context of a prison environment.

HM Prison Service has a duty to ensure the health of its residents. Availability of canteen products may run contrary to this, but the removal of such items may create resistance among prisoners. A slow incremental alteration of available items, alongside promotion of alternative healthier ones, may improve prisoners’ health.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7070