Food in cities
Municipalities play a strategic role in the prevention of obesity and several diseases because their actions have immediate impacts on the environment and the lifestyles of their citizens.
The possibilities for action are many and varied for municipalities wishing to improve food supply and access to healthy foods, limit the establishment of fast food restaurants near schools, act on food deserts or promote access to fresh food.
While junk food traditionally appears to be associated with the canteen of the arena or the sports center, its ubiquity is not consistent with the practice of sports or the promotion of physical activity taking place there.
Through its Vision de la saine alimentation – Pour la création d’environnements alimentaires favorables, the Ministry of Health and Social Services encourages Quebec cities to offer a variety of foods, the majority of which being good or excellent choices in terms of nutritional value. It also invites them to limit the sale of so-called “exceptional” foods, such as sugar-sweetened beverages or fried foods. In principle, according to this vision, the municipal food supply should then be overall more interesting than the restaurants’.
A reality to be improved
Yet the portraits of food supply available to date reveal that many improvements are required to comply with this vision. For example, in 2007, a study by the Direction de santé publique de la Capitale-Nationale1 found that few healthy options were available to consumers in sports facilities and that:
- a soft drink was 1½ to 2 times cheaper than water or juice;
- many dishes were found to be rich in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and/or concentrated sugars.
Moreover, a portrait of the situation in 16 arenas was carried out as part of the project La santé au menu, which confirms the observations made in the Capitale:
- food counters mostly offered junk food (hotdogs, hamburgers, fries, club sandwiches, soft drinks, etc.);
- about 50% of the vending machines offered low-nutrient food;
- only half of the sites visited (8) also offered interesting food from a nutritional point of view, such as salads, paninis, soups, salads, etc.
These examples show that the food supply of certain municipal areas should be enhanced in order to offer citizens an environment in which healthy choices are attractive and accessible.
Fortunately, several municipalities have become aware of the role they can play in making healthy choices easier for their people. Thus, many are taking concrete actions. For those considering taking action, several strategies can be put in place to ensure the success of their initiatives. Support and additional resources may also contribute to the success of this important change.
On August 19, 2013, the City of Granby adopted a food policy (in French only) banning fried food and energy drinks from its establishments. The City also wants to diversify and enhance the availability of healthy foods.
On February 4, 2013, the City of Sherbrooke adopted its Politique alimentaire pour les infrastructures sportives, les événements et les fêtes populaires (in French only).
This policy includes the following five orientations:
- provide high nutritional value meals and snacks;
- integrate the principles of sustainable development to all food services’ activities;
- increase physicial accessibility to a variety of high nutritional value food;
- promote healthy eating among food service customers;
- ensure skills development for the staff.
On March 29, 2011, the City of Gatineau’s Politique alimentaire de la Ville de Gatineau. Pour des choix santé! (in French only) is adopted. Among other things, it aims to “broaden food choices by integrating both tasty and nutritious food”, while considering that “in some cases, food with a high sugar, salt or trans and saturated fat content can be banned.”
The policy guidelines foresee that changes in food supply should be made gradually and with the participation of all affected stakeholders, while at the same time addressing the need to maintain economic access to the proposed nutritious food.
Borough of Côte-des-neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce
This borough of Montreal has adopted a Politique en faveur des saines habitudes de vie, whose objective is to “regulate food supply, promote healthy food and beverages and eliminate food containing trans fat in all municipal facilities under its authority and at events organized by the borough or public promoters on its territory.”
The policy, which came into effect on September 1, 2010, was intended to “create […] a food environment that puts forward healthy foods free of trans fat, making healthy choices easier.”
For more information, see Part 1 of this policy (in French only).
In 2016, elected officials adopted the 2nd phase of this Health Plan, resulting in a regulation that promotes the adoption of a physically active lifestyle, healthy eating and the right to a quality environment. This pro-health regulation (in French) has nine objectives, three of which related to healthy eating: promoting access to fresh produce by facilitating the establishment of community gardens, vegetable gardens, health food stores and seasonal farmers’ markets over a larger area of the borough, and limiting the construction of new fast-food restaurants bordering major traffic arteries.
Borough of Verdun
In September 2006, the Verdun City Council adopts the «Bonne bouffe» policy in its indoor and outdoor facilities, which enhances the food supply by, among other things, demanding an increase in the proportion of foods “recognized by Canada’s Food Guide” and highlighting these products. It requires, for example, that products containing trans fats be eliminated and that soft drinks be gradually replaced by healthier beverages.