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Creating Healthier Food Environments in Canada

Creating Healthier Food Environments in Canada
January 4, 2018
By Donna Smith MPH, RD, Policy and Program Consultant, Nutrition Resource Centre, Ontario Public Health Association

A new report has been released recently aimed at building healthier food environments in Canada.

Internationally, nutrition experts have recognized the critical role of governments to shape the food environment to mediate the many food environment factors which influence food choices through a broad range of policy levers. A global network of public interest organizations, researchers and food environment experts are actively working together to create healthy food environments and reduce obesity and nutrition-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through a network called “INFORMAS”—the International Network of Food and Obesity / NCDs Research, Monitoring and Action Support.

Through this global network, the INFORMAS framework has been developed, and includes food environment policy process, impact and outcome modules, which enable consistent benchmarking of food environments between countries and a process to monitor progress of food environment policy actions over time.

Within the INFORMAS framework, the healthy food environment policy index (Food-EPI) has been developed to assess the extent of national policy implementation within each country in comparison to international best practices. The Food-EPI includes good practice indicators, which have been developed and pilot tested by international experts for a range of public and private food environment policy and infrastructure domains.

Led by Dr. Mary L’Abbé at the University of Toronto, Food-EPI Canada 2017 is a research study that brought together an Advisory Group of experts from across Canada, including academics and non-governmental organizations. The Advisory Group participated in a workshop to comprehensively assess Canadian food environment policies, compared to international benchmarks of current best practices, using the healthy food environment policy index. Experts were also asked to identify and prioritize policy actions and infrastructure supports for food environment policy where current policy gaps exist at both the federal and provincial/territorial levels.

The Nutrition Resource Centre at the Ontario Public Health Association was pleased to support the first Food-EPI Canada in the assessment and benchmarking process as a member of the Food-EPI Expert Advisory Group, as well as the development of the provincial evidence document for Ontario. As a result of the three workshops held across Canada, food environment assessments and prioritized policy actions at provincial/territorial and federal levels are provided in the respective Food-EPI Canada 2017 final reports.

At the federal level, the Food-EPI Canada 2017 Expert Advisory Group prioritized six policy actions and five infrastructure actions (supporting policy implementation) to improve food environments in Canada. Visit NRC Navigator to read the full report here and executive summary here.  Provincial reports can be found here. In Ontario, the Expert Advisory Group identified five priority actions for the Government of Ontario to address current gaps in food environment policy in the province, including:  
  1. Updating the Healthy Menu Choices Act to provide additional information for sodium on menus, complemented by a menu labelling education campaign
  2. Implementing a point-of-sale sales tax on all sugary drinks, with a reinvestment of the revenue from the tax into public health
  3. Implementing policies including public procurement standards to provide and promote healthy food choices in public sector settings
  4. Acknowledging and endorsing the importance of provincial public health nutrition and obesity and NCD prevention strategies
  5. Continuing to support the Healthy Kids Community Challenge and investing in additional themes that promote healthy eating behaviours
For more information on the Food-EPI Canada 2017 process, or for media inquiries, please contact Dr. Lana Vanderlee (lana.vanderlee@utoronto.ca) or Dr. Mary L’Abbé (mary.labbe@utoronto.ca).
Read more in today's "news in brief"