Deakin University
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A systematic policy approach to changing the food system and physical activity environments to prevent obesity

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journal contribution
posted on 2008-06-05, 00:00 authored by Gary SacksGary Sacks, Boyd SwinburnBoyd Swinburn, Mark LawrenceMark Lawrence
As obesity prevention becomes an increasing health priority in many countries, including Australia
and New Zealand, the challenge that governments are now facing is how to adopt a systematic
policy approach to increase healthy eating and regular physical activity. This article sets out a
structure for systematically identifying areas for obesity prevention policy action across the food
system and full range of physical activity environments. Areas amenable to policy intervention can
be systematically identified by considering policy opportunities for each level of governance (local,
state, national, international and organisational) in each sector of the food system (primary
production, food processing, distribution, marketing, retail, catering and food service) and each
sector that influences physical activity environments (infrastructure and planning, education,
employment, transport, sport and recreation). Analysis grids are used to illustrate, in a structured
fashion, the broad array of areas amenable to legal and regulatory intervention across all levels of
governance and all relevant sectors. In the Australian context, potential regulatory policy
intervention areas are widespread throughout the food system, e.g., land-use zoning (primary
production within local government), food safety (food processing within state government), food
labelling (retail within national government). Policy areas for influencing physical activity are
predominantly local and state government responsibilities including, for example, walking and
cycling environments (infrastructure and planning sector) and physical activity education in schools
(education sector). The analysis structure presented in this article provides a tool to systematically
identify policy gaps, barriers and opportunities for obesity prevention, as part of the process of
developing and implementing a comprehensive obesity prevention strategy. It also serves to
highlight the need for a coordinated approach to policy development and implementation across
all levels of government in order to ensure complementary policy action.



Australia and New Zealand health policy






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BioMed Central Ltd.


London, U.K.






This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2008, Sacks et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

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