Local food environments are all the processes involved in keeping us fed. They impact on the access, availability, and adequacy of food within a community or region and include the following factors:
Local food environments that promote sustainable food systems also help maintain food security and nutrition for future generations.
Sustainable food systems must:
Healthy people like to live, work, learn and play in vibrant communities, and local governments play a key role in creating these environments. Local governments influence the food available in our neighbourhoods, and how we access them, through their planning and regulatory activities local community facilities, programs and events. Evidence shows that local food environments that make healthier food and drink available and accessible; improve physical and mental health, increase food literacy, reduce local food insecurity, reduce food and resource waste, and reduce environmental impact within the community.
In Western Australia (1), around 90% of the adult population believe that government financial support is important for improving the local food environment. They believe governments should:
Unfortunately, many current food environments in Australia do not provide equal access to safe, sustainable, high-quality, healthy food for everyone. While interactions are complex, our local neighbourhoods, local economies, social situation, dietary intake and food security are linked to our risk of chronic disease and unhealthy weight. People with physical access to nutritious foods are more likely to consume a healthy diet and less likely to be an unhealthy weight.
Supporting healthy eating is not the responsibility of local government alone. The responsibility is shared among all levels of government and other stakeholders in the community. As the level of government closest to the community, local governments can, and are active in, influencing the local healthy food environment to improve access, price, availability and sustainability of healthy food choices.
Improving the local food environment goes beyond just the positive impact on the individual’s health and wellbeing. Broader social, cultural and economic benefits can also be gained for local governments and the community.
(1) Miller, MR and Miller, SA. (2017) Nutrition Monitoring Survey Series 2015 Key Findings, Department of Health, Western Australia. Accessed from https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/-/media/Files/Corporate/general-documents/Population-health/PDF/Nutrition-monitoring/Nutrition-Monitoring-Survey-2015.pdf