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Food environments shape what food we buy and eat.

They are the physical, economic, socio-cultural and policy surroundings, opportunities and conditions that affect the availability, accessibility, affordability and attractiveness of foods and drinks.

Some key definitions of ‘food environment’:

INFORMAS

“The collective physical, economic, policy and sociocultural surroundings, opportunities and conditions that influence people’s food and beverage choices and nutritional status.”

Swinburn et al., 2013

High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE)

“Food environment refers to the physical, economic, political and socio-cultural context in which consumers engage with the food system to make their decisions about acquiring, preparing and consuming food.”

“The key elements of the food environment that influence consumer food choices, food acceptability and diets are: physical and economic access to food (proximity and affordability); food promotion, advertising and information; and food quality and safety.”

HLPE, 2017

Agriculture, Nutrition and Health Academy

“The food environment is the interface that mediates people’s food acquisition and consumption within the wider food system. It encompasses external dimensions such as the availability, prices, vendor and product properties, and promotional information; and personal dimensions such as the accessibility, affordability, convenience and desirability of food sources and products”

European Commission, Group of Chief Scientific Advisors (2020)

“Today’s food environments exploit people’s biological, psychological, social, and economic vulnerabilities, making it easier for them to eat unhealthy foods.”

The Lancet Series on Obesity (2015)

 

Food environments and food policy

Creating healthy food environments is not about telling people what to eat or putting the burden of dietary change on individuals. Quite the opposite – it is about ensuring that healthy food choices become the default, most attractive and affordable ones, empowering healthy, tasty, sustainable eating patterns.

Reshaping food environments is critical for food systems sustainability, a need now recognised at the EU level, most notably by its Chief Scientific Advisors and in the Farm to Fork Strategy.

Creating healthy, sustainable food environments involves implementing policies to reshape incentives across the food chain. Such policies are best conceived in policy packages and should include regulatory and fiscal measures prominently in the policy mix.

 

Such policies can be grouped across seven main types of measures:

7 Policies for Healthy Food Environments

1) Tackle unhealthy, unsustainable marketing and advertising through regulatory action;
2) Ensure easy-to-use and reliable consumer nutrition information;
3) Introduce healthy and sustainable pricing policies;
4) Support sustainable public food procurement;
5) Drive product (re)formulation;
6) Create healthy retail, restaurant, urban and school environments;
7) Ensure independent nutrition education and information.

POLICIES FOR HEALTHY FOOD ENVIRONMENTS

What progress towards creating empowering food environments in Europe?