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
- 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
- The Ontario food and nutrition strategy: Identifying indicators of food access and food literacy for early monitoring of the food environment (Boucher et al., 2017)
This report describes the process of identifying indicators for 11 action areas in the Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy related to food access and food literacy skills.
- Canada’s food report card 2016: Provincial performance (Le Vallée, 2017)
This report compares 63 food performance metrics across Canada’s 10 provinces around five elements: industry prosperity, healthy food and diets, food safety, household food security, and environmental sustainability.
- Social determinants of obesity: The role of food environments (Raine, 2017)
This webinar recording introduces how food environments shape diet and weight, and explores how food environment interventions at community and policy levels can impact population health.
- Food environment assessment: Linking evidence to policy action (Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada, 2016)
Hosted in collaboration with Health Canada’s Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion, this 3-part webinar series introduces a number of tools to assess food environments, and the FRESH-IT project.
- Limiting businesses with drive-through service: The experience of the Borough of Saint-Laurent in Montreal (Association pour la santé publique du Québec, 2016)
This case study examines Saint-Laurent’s experience in adopting a zoning by-law prohibiting drive-through service to promote active transportation and public transit.
- Transforming the food environment: Strategies and resources toolkit (Bergeron, 2015)
This handout shares strategies and resources for working with local and municipal decision-makers to influence municipal policies to create healthier community food environments.
- Healthier food retail action guide (National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2014)
This resource provides guidance for public health practitioners on how to develop, implement, and partner on food retail initiatives and activities to improve access, availability, and affordability of healthier foods and beverages.
- Public health and food and beverage industry engagement: A tool to assess partnership opportunities and challenges (Kraak, 2014)
This resource provides public health professionals in Canada with a set of tools to assess whether and how to engage with food and beverage industry to support health promotion goals.
- Healthy food systems fact sheet (Provincial Health Services Authority, 2014)
Part of the Healthy Built Environment Linkages Toolkit, this fact sheet introduces aspects of healthy food systems that influence health in the context of healthy built environments.
- Measuring the food environment in Canada (Health Canada, 2013)
This report discusses conceptual models and measurement approaches currently used in food environments research, examines evidence on the association of food environments on diet-related health outcomes, and reviews several Canadian community food assessments.
- Healthy communities and planning for food systems in Ontario (Ontario Professional Planners Institute, 2011)
This Call to Action report for professional planners aims to raise awareness of key issues pertaining to healthy food systems, and highlights challenges associated with planning for food systems.
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.