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The Role of Municipalities in Healthy Eating

The Role of Municipalities in Healthy Eating 
Contrary to popular opinion, healthy eating is more than an individual choice and is impacted by the settings in which we live. For example, living in a community with predominately unhealthy options, such as fast food outlets and convenience stories, can make healthy choices difficult for residents.

Municipalities have the ability to ensure environments provide and encourage healthy food choices, thereby protecting and promoting child and youth health. The following strategies are examples of opportunities where municipalities can take action to improve the food environment, making the healthy choice the easy choice for its citizens.

  • Municipal planning can address geographic (physical) access to food through zoning by-laws. Considering the proximity of unhealthy food vendors to places where children gather, such as schools, is a municipal responsibility.
  • Municipalities have the power to set policies around access to food within public buildings, such as vending contracts and franchising in recreation centres and civic buildings (1). 
  • Municipalities can play a role in providing access to fresh local food by ensuring there are adequate green zones for agriculture and permits for local vendors, mobile produce sellers and farmers’ markets (1).
  • Limiting restrictive covenants on former supermarket sites can improve economic access to food, particularly in low-income areas (2).
  • Paying attention to the type of foods advertised to children (3) on billboards near schools, on transit ads on routes that children use, and in local arenas can ensure no marketing of unhealthy food occurs.

While making changes may be difficult due to competing interests, municipalities can make political decisions about the type of food environment they want to provide for their children and youth.

References
1. Mah, C., Cook, B., Rideout, K., & Minaker, L. M. (2016). Policy options for healthier retail food environments in city regions. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 107(Suppl. 1), eS64-eS67.

2. Smoyer-Tomic, K., Spence, J.C., Raine, K.D., Amrhein, C. , Cameron, N., Yasenovskiy, V., Cutumisu, N., Hemphill, E., Healy, J. (2008.). The association between neighborhood socioeconomic status and exposure to supermarkets and fast food outlets. Health & Place, 14(4), 740-754.

3. Boyland, E. J., Nolan, S., Kelly, B., Tudur-Smith, C., Jones, A., Halford, J. C. G., et al. (2016). Advertising as a cue to consume: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of acute exposure to unhealthy food and nonalcoholic beverage advertising on intake in children and adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 103(2), 519-533.