Food Environments

Printer Friendly, PDF & Email

The foods that people choose to consume are influenced by the availability, affordability, and accessibility of foods in the environments in which they live, work, and play. Defined by the built and social environments, including physical, social, economic, cultural, and political factors, food environments play an important role in shaping diets and eating habits. A healthy food environment provides equitable access to healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy snack options in various food retail outlets. There is strong evidence linking diet and the risk of developing chronic diseases, including cancer, coronary heart disease, and stroke, as well as health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. As the prevalence of chronic diseases rises in Canada, public health must increase efforts to curtail this trend to prevent an unsustainable growth in the associated healthcare expenditures and economic burden.

This collection of resources:

  • Introduces the concept of healthy food environments and how they pertain to public health and environmental health practice
  • Includes tools for measuring local food environments, and planning and implementing appropriate interventions
  • Provides an overview of the current state of food environments in Canada

NCCEH Resources

  • Food deserts and food swamps: A primer (2017)
    This primer discusses food deserts and food swamps and highlights some opportunities for action and collaboration between governments, public health, and business operators.
  • Policy options for healthier retail food environments in city-regions (Mah et al., 2016)
    This peer-reviewed article introduces several promising policy options for consideration by public health practitioners who are exploring, developing, testing, and evaluating retail food environment interventions in their jurisdictions.
  • Food environments: An introduction for public health practice (Rideout et al.,2015)
    This document introduces the concept of food environments, highlights some key evidence for the relationship between food environments and health, and identifies some ways environmental public health practitioners can influence food environments.

Selected External Resources

Government and non-government resources

Peer-reviewed journal articles

  • Special issue: The food environment in Canada, Part I (Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada, 2017)
    This special issue of the Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada journal includes several articles on food environments in Canada, ranging from marketing to children, food environment assessment tool in supermarkets in Montreal, healthy eating at schools, and the Ontario food and nutrition strategy.
  • An introduction to the healthy corner store intervention model in Canada (Mah et al., 2017)
    This article introduces the concept of healthy corner stores to improve the local food environment by transforming existing corner stores to health-promoting stores, and examines four urban and rural healthy corner store initiatives in Canada.
  • Retail food environments research in Canada: A scoping review (Minaker et al., 2016)
    This scoping review provides an overview of retail food environments research in Canada conducted before July 2015. The review includes research foci and key findings, knowledge gaps, and future directions for research.
  • Ready for policy? Stakeholder attitudes toward menu labelling in Toronto, Canada (Mah et al., 2013)
    This article assesses stakeholder attitudes towards menu labelling policy in Toronto as a population health intervention to inform consumers about their food choices when dining out.
  • The local food environment and diet: A systematic review (Caspi et al., 2012)
    This systematic review evaluates how local food environments influence diet, using the five dimensions of food access: availability, accessibility, affordability, accommodation, and acceptability.


This list is not intended to be exhaustive. Omission of a resource does not preclude it from having value.

Last updated Oct 18, 2017