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Implementing healthy food environment policies in New Zealand: nine years of inaction
journal contributionposted on 2023-02-09, 04:28 authored by Sally Mackay, S Gerritsen, F Sing, S Vandevijvere, Boyd SwinburnBoyd Swinburn
Background: The INFORMAS [International Network for Food and Obesity/Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) Research, Monitoring and Action Support] Healthy Food Environment Policy Index (Food-EPI) was developed to evaluate the degree of implementation of widely recommended food environment policies by national governments against international best practice, and has been applied in New Zealand in 2014, 2017 and 2020. This paper outlines the 2020 Food-EPI process and compares policy implementation and recommendations with the 2014 and 2017 Food-EPI. Methods: In March–April 2020, a national panel of over 50 public health experts participated in Food-EPI. Experts rated the extent of implementation of 47 “good practice” policy and infrastructure support indicators compared to international best practice, using an extensive evidence document verified by government officials. Experts then proposed and prioritized concrete actions needed to address the critical implementation gaps identified. Progress on policy implementation and recommendations made over the three Food-EPIs was compared. Results: In 2020, 60% of the indicators were rated as having “low” or “very little, if any” implementation compared to international benchmarks: less progress than 2017 (47%) and similar to 2014 (61%). Of the nine priority actions proposed in 2014, there was only noticeable action on one (Health Star Ratings). The majority of actions were therefore proposed again in 2017 and 2020. In 2020 the proposed actions were broader, reflecting the need for multisectoral action to improve the food environment, and the need for a mandatory approach in all policy areas. Conclusions: There has been little to no progress in the past three terms of government (9 years) on the implementation of policies and infrastructure support for healthy food environments, with implementation overall regressing between 2017 and 2020. The proposed actions in 2020 have reflected a growing movement to locate nutrition within the wider context of planetary health and with recognition of the social determinants of health and nutrition, resulting in recommendations that will require the involvement of many government entities to overcome the existing policy inertia. The increase in food insecurity due to COVID-19 lockdowns may provide the impetus to stimulate action on food polices.