The study was conducted by the University of Sydney and Deakin University, and involved analysis of food and nutrition policies carried out in six different local governments (LGs) in Australia (Blacktown, City of Sydney, Fairfield, Ku-Ring-Gai, Penrith, Randwick) comparing this with a model framework based on Australian literature and an international policy framework.
LGs are the third layer of government in Australia (under the federal government and state and territory governments). Regulatory bodies are generally called ‘councils’, whereas areas governed by LGs can range from cities to districts to districts. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are 562 Local Government Areas in Australia as of 2020.
The researchers found a lack of local government policies regulating healthier diets and nutrition, including in important areas such as reformulation of food products and unhealthy food marketing governance.
“We did not find any LGs involved in initiatives related to food processing and packaging, including policies on product reformulation targeted at food producers,”They said.
“In fact, our study found only one example of a specific policy on healthy eating / nutrition: Blacktown’s Access to the Fresh Food Policy, [but even this made no mention of any reformulation initiatives]. person
“We found only two mentions that encourage food retailers to increase the availability / affordability of healthy food, [but] not mentioned LGs are using food regulatory schemes to encourage retailers to improve food health. “ person
There is also a lack of any action against what the researchers consider to be ‘Promotion, advertising and information-based initiatives aimed at changing behavior’ such as the marketing of unhealthy food products within LG’s jurisdiction.
“We [also] did not find any limiting mention of local governments person marketing of unhealthy foods person person through actions within their jurisdiction, for example on infrastructure owned or managed by LGs [despite previous state government moves, such as in Queensland, to ban such public marketing], “They said.
“[The lack of these measures is especially concerning as] malnutrition is a significant public health problem in Australia, with approximately 25% of children and 60% of adults living with obesity or overweight, and high body mass being the second risk factor contributing to the local disease burden. person
“[It is important for the LGs to play a role here as they]can make a significant contribution to improving diet-related health, especially since in recent years, the state and federal governments have delegated their activities downward, expanding LG’s operations. person
“The proximity of local governments to their communities gives them the unique ability to identify areas of local need and respond with targeted actions [and] states enable them to act as laboratories for testing innovative approaches that can be adopted at state and national levels [to achieve a] healthy food environment. “ person
Very restricted person
One theory put forward by researchers about this lack of action in the main food sector is that local governments are too constrained by their current resources, both in terms of funds and national policies to support them.
“LGs are formed by state law and are limited in their role, apart from having only limited capacity to raise revenues – This political and legislative context limits local government actions on food and nutrition,”The study authors said.
“[This is compounded] the absence of a supportive policy and legislative framework at the state and federal levels limits LG capacity to respond to complex food system challenges. person Furthermore, some LGs do not view food as a political priority, while others lack the financial and technical capacity for policy development. “ person
What the authors do not directly mention, but are likely to play a major role here, is that the need to implement mandatory reformulation policies or bans on unhealthy food marketing will require LGs to face a big problem head on. companies such as food producers and retailers – which would be nearly impossible without national level policy support.
Current Local Government focus person
So, instead of tackling the more complex problems of reformulation and prohibiting the marketing of unhealthy foods, LGs prefer to tackle less controversial issues.
For example, according to the study, all local governments undertake reduction and management of food waste a ‘main concern’, With every project launched such as provision of compost bins and sustainability workshops.
“All LGs report on food safety related activities and play a key role in enforcing regulations, such as the City of Sydney initiating food safety prosecutions for unsafe eating establishments and engaging in prosecutions for violations of the Code of Food Standards,”The research said.
Going forward, the authors ask LGs to work in areas that are currently lacking such as product reformulation, if the aim is to create a healthy food environment for local consumers.
“We found opportunities for further action in several areas, including reformulating products, limiting unhealthy food outlets, limiting the marketing of unhealthy foods, and implementing food regulations to promote good nutrition,”They said.
“Further research is needed to understand the legislative and political limits on Australian local governments, and how they can use their powers and functions to promote good nutrition within these limits.” person
Learn: The role of Australian local governments in creating a healthy food environment: analysis of policy documents from six Sydney local governments person
Source: Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health person
Author: Reeve, B. et. in. person