Food Economics
How Public Policy Can Promote Healthier Living
Policy experts and health professionals can create targeted policies to increase access to healthy foods.

Food production and sale involve countless moving parts spread throughout the global community, with many areas hidden from public view. Identifying key areas of concern, such as the use of harmful fertilizers, can be easy. The real difficulty comes when solutions need to be developed at a local level in order to support healthy choices. Communities do have options available to them, and public policy plays a crucial role in creating a nutritional environment.

Public policy is critical to the promotion of health. The Canadian Journal of Public Health provides a commentary on four distinct public policy areas that communities should focus on: planning for health, transforming consumer environments, economic and fiscal instruments, and a culture of transparency and participation. Creating targeted initiatives in these areas can better position communities for a healthy future.

Healthy Planning

Geographic access to healthy foods is a major problem. The prevalence of food deserts or food swamps means that travelling to healthy food retailers can be time consuming and costly. In the US alone, between 6 to 9 percent of households are left without healthy food, and close to 30 million people live in low-income areas where access to healthy food is limited.

While this issue involves many factors, including socio-economic challenges, the combination of health professionals, public policy experts, and urban planners can help alleviate some of the difficulties.

Public health practitioners can collaborate with urban planners to create policies that ensure people have access to healthy food retailers. Zoning policies and land-use planning can define the proximity of food retailers, taking into consideration environmental factors such as walkability, transportation, and access.

By drafting bylaws, communities can guarantee that the food retail options around schools, for instance, support healthy lifestyles. Communities can also create legislation that supports agricultural production within cities, which will strengthen relationships between consumers and producers. Similarly, retail food establishments can utilize these producers, which help support communities in more ways than just one.

Changing Consumer Environments

Radically changing the way consumers access healthy food is no easy task. By broadening the understanding of a consumer environment, some interesting options become available.

Mobile vending models offer a way for people to access healthy food closer to home. Licensing at a city and regional level can be expanded to accommodate mobile retailers that serve healthy foods exclusively. Instead of the standard fish and chips or hot dog stands, units like Mobile Good Food Market and MarketMobile can roam communities that have limited access to healthy food.

When it comes to consumer environments, financial viability is a challenge. A comprehensive approach that brings together economic development, community development, and financial feasibility can help to mitigate risk.

One such example is the “healthy corner store”, a targeted intervention that addresses food insecurity directly. Availability, access, and affordability for the consumer are present, with assistance provided to small retailers e.g. strengthening of supply chains. Such interventions support demand and create environments that appeal directly to consumers.

Local Economic Tools

Economic development is usually considered on a macro level, with countries funding initiatives that are at once innovative and beneficial to its citizens. However, local communities can use tools at their disposal that support nutrition, sustainability, and economic development.

Local government services, favourable taxation, and practical programs can be used to foster a culture of innovation for entrepreneurs. Food business incubators are physical spaces that give entrepreneurs the ability to rent low-cost kitchens. More comprehensive models include business support in the form of marketing, advising expertise for investing, and avenues to acquire capital.

Supporting these initiatives through incentives can bring healthy food retailers into the mainstream. Taxation can be leveraged and used to support targeted initiatives. For example, a tax on sugary beverages can be levied, the proceeds of which can be used to fund innovation.

Creating Transparency

Healthy food options are important, but so too is the ability for people to understand what they are eating. Labelling policies give people the power to decide what they would like to eat when they are in the process of making a purchase. This is especially important when people do decide to eat out.

Labelling guidelines can set expectations, helping to create a culture where people know what they are putting in their bodies. Health policy professionals can work with civil society groups, businesses, and government to develop guidelines focused on transparency and nutrition. City councils and roundtables are great forums for this purpose.

Fed: A New Food Retail Environment

Bringing together public and private actors is no easy task. Altering social norms and creating a culture of innovation requires time and effort. However, the astronomical costs of inaction, both to public health and sustainability, warrant the time and effort.  

Fed, a nutrition company based in Vancouver, is tackling healthy food access by combining science and technology to improve human health. A personalized approach to nutrition ensures that consumers get the healthy meals they need in order to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Nutritious meals are created by food experts, sourcing local ingredients and minimizing waste. The model, while providing access to healthy meals, also addresses sustainability issues within the food industry.

We are currently working hard to make Fed a reality, and are aiming to launch later in 2017. Sign up now for our mailing list to receive updates and early access to our meals.

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