Hospitals in England are criticised today for allowing patients and visitors to gorge on crisps, fizzy drinks and chocolate.
A cancer charity said England has fallen “woefully” behind Scotland and Wales in the provision of healthy food and drink in hospital vending machines.
The World Cancer Research Fund said England has no national guidelines to ensure hospitals can provide healthy food 24 hours a day, unlike other British nations.
A poll by the charity found three-quarters of English hospital trusts have no policy on the food and drink in their vending machines.
Amanda McLean, from the charity, said: “Hospital waiting areas often have vending machines that are filled with high-calorie products such as chocolate bars, crisps and sugary soft drinks.”
She said obesity caused by the foods was a factor in cancer, diabetes and heart disease which made them “partly to blame for many people ending up in hospital in the first place”.
“Hospitals should put an end to vending machines that sell only high-calorie food and drink,” she added. “They should be beacons of good health in our communities and encourage and support people in making healthier choices about the food they eat.”
In 2008 the Welsh and Scottish governments introduced guidelines for hospitals on providing healthier products in vending machines and England should follow the example, the charity said.
In June the British Medical Association said hospitals should ban the sale of junk food and unhealthy drinks on their premises.
The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which called for a ban on unhealthy foods earlier this year, backed the charity.
Chairman Prof Terence Stephenson said: “The NHS needs to avoid providing the same obesogenic environment as the high street and send out a clear message that it takes obesity and the health of the nation seriously by offering patients and staff alike healthy food options.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Hospitals in England have a clear responsibility to promote healthier choices in vending machines so staff and visitors can eat good-quality food.
“We know that some hospitals have already signed up to our Responsibility Deal and committed to making healthier food and drink available, and would encourage other hospitals to do the same and look after their staff, patients and visitors.”
Meanwhile experts today warn children who skip meals, consume fizzy drinks and watch too much TV are storing up serious health problems for later in life.
Teenagers seem to be worse than younger age groups, with many leading inactive lifestyles and missing out on vital nutrients, according to a report from the British Heart Foundation and Oxford University.
About one young person in three is overweight or obese.
The report found around two in five 13-year-olds drink a soft drink every day and four in five children aged five to 15 are not eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
Almost three-quarters of 13-year-olds watch at least two hours of TV on a weekday.
Charity chief executive Simon Gillespie said: “These figures are a warning that many of our children are in grave danger of developing coronary heart disease in the future if they continue to live the same lifestyle.”