Healthy eating refers to the types and amounts of foods that promote health and wellbeing. Healthy eating is based on eating a variety of foods from the five food groups every day and limiting the 'sometimes' foods you eat for fun and pleasure to once or twice a week. For more tips and advice on healthy eating take a look at NSW Health's Make Healthy Normal campaign.
Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and health life (FAO Food Security Policy Brief, 2006). Food security can be understood at both an individual and a community-wide level and can be as much about poor quality diet as it is about having sufficient food to eat.
Environments Supportive of Healthy Eating
Environments supportive of healthy eating include features such as:
- Equitable access to and availability of healthy food options
- Preserved and productive agricultural lands
- Promotion of local products and regional producers
- A range of food retail outlets (grocery stores, greengrocers, supermarkets, farmers' markets) where healthy options are readily available and well promoted.
- Geographical availability of healthy food outlets (density, proximity or outlets, active transport)
Local government in NSW has played a role in food production, distribution and safety through its planning and regulatory activities, with considerable variety depending upon location – from rural areas where production and distribution are basic to the local economy, through to distribution, retail and food waste management in metropolitan Sydney.
The scope of healthy eating action at the local government level is presented below under the key elements or stages in the “food chain”:
- Production (and processing)
- Distribution (transport, marketing and consumer access/utilisation)
- Recycling and disposal (food waste, re-use and post-use management)
1. Production and processing
Councils outside of Sydney and the Hunter are Water Supply Authorities. Water supply can have major implications for agricultural production and for food processing facilities.
Councils’ regulatory powers can affect large and small scale production (and processing) of food. On a large scale, in collaboration with the State government, they can:
- protect prime agricultural land/ reduce fragmentation - ensure rural residential development does not adversely affect production;
- designate appropriate locations for food processing industries, considering equality of access and locational criteria, and maximising resource exchange; and
- produce guidelines on location and development standards for food and related industries
Decisions for food producers/ processors to locate in a council area can have dramatic implications for the local economy (and perhaps local tourism), including home employment/ local exchange. In this regard, at the district and regional level, councils can participate in the preparation of State/ Regional level Strategic Plans, make representations on State/Regional Development Proposals and participate in regional/ district food initiatives.
On a smaller, domestic scale councils can require/promote:
- Water sensitive urban design (generally);
- Community gardens (including as elements in subdivision design);
- Productive street trees (also providing shade, amenity, and character) and verge planting – open-pollinating, naturally irrigated;
- Use of community land, such as parks, reserves and verges for production / community gardens, and/or common orchards (through the Plans of Management regime);
- Community use of school grounds (including community gardens); and
- Gardening/ composting elements in medium/ higher density developments - roof top gardens, school gardens, home food gardens.
This stage has a number of key elements:
(c) Consumer access and utilisation
The relationship between transport and land-use is fundamental to planning practice. Local government, in partnership with the State government, has responsibility for overall transport planning and management. Consideration of appropriate locations for distribution centres / nodes, ease of access for the community and reduced transport costs can improve access to local food outlets. Ease of access includes active transport options (such as ‘shopping shuttles’, walking and cycleways).
In a broader sense, reducing transport distances positively affects our ecological footprint (in accordance with the Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) principle in the Local Government Act).
As well as promoting healthy eating through education and information availability, councils can liaise with the food industry to ensure there is not inappropriate outdoor advertising in child sensitive locations (such as near schools, childcare centres, parks and children's cycleways).
(c) Consumer access and utilisation
Councils can consider actions that enhance the ability of people to easily purchase healthy food and consume a healthy diet. Central to this is the nature of the food retail environment and the influence this may have on people's food choices. When starting to think about the nature of the food retail environment a key question to ask is "what is the availability of healthy and unhealthy food and drinks in the community and within retail outlets such as supermarkets, convenience stores and take-away outlets?"
Councils can embrace a range of actions to ensure that people have access to health food options, including:
- Ensuring that food outlets are easily accessible by active travel (walking, cycling, community and public transport);
- Promoting geographic availability of different types of healthy food outlets;
- Modelling healthy food for the community by implementing a healthy food policy for all council events (in-house and external catering) (see the National Heart Foundation's "The Right Ingredient" and NSW Health "Get Healthy at Work" healthy eating resources);
- Continuing to play a key role in inspections of food outlets to ensure food safety and expanding the role of food safety inspectors to include education and promotion of healthy eating;
- Promoting healthy food options in council-operated or leased premises eg. recreational facilities. A healthy food policy can be included in the request for tender for retail food services for these premises (eg "Finish with the Right Stuff");
- Make healthy choices easier for the community to make by adopting the Healthier Oils Initiative where independent food outlets are encouraged and supported to switch to healthier frying oils) (eg Cessnock City Council); and
- In collaboration with the State government, produce guidelines on location and development standards for food outlets.
3. Recycling and disposal: waste, re-use and post-use management
Through their waste services facilities, policies and contracts, councils can promote sustainable food production through the utilisation of food and organic waste (with stringent quality control) - energy and compost, new fertilizer sources. Healthy eating actions such as eating more fresh produce and home preparation of meals in preference to eating commercial meals can have co-benefits for both health and the environment.
In addition, council policies can:
- promote/ require storm water capture and use and, particularly in non-metropolitan areas, sewerage treatment and re-use.
- support the re-distribution of under utilised food resources.
Also, through “Waste Not” Development Control Plans, council can require/ promote on-site composting, gardening and the provision of on-site facilities for waste sorting (eg. green waste) and collection.
Additional healthy eating actions
Education and information
Local councils can educate their communities to assist them to make healthy, informed choices. Education is most effective when combined with policy and environmental changes that make healthy choices easy choices eg. having healthy food choices available at council managed or leased premises. Some educational actions councils could take include:
- Healthy gardening education (including composting/worm farming/community gardens). Include content and links in local council media eg www.makehealthynormal.nsw.gov.au and www.healthykids.nsw.gov.au
- Information about the location of healthy food outlets eg. farmers' markets, fruit and vegetable suppliers
- Organise and promote events on healthy foods and local food culture such as public lectures, community garden food events, and demonstrations at food fairs
- Establishment of city farms as an educational experience
- Highlight healthier choices on the menus / menu boards at Council owned/operated facilities at Council owned/ operated facilities
There is also considerable common ground between active living and healthy eating actions. For example:
- Active transport access to food outlets (walking, cycling, community transport)
- Outdoor activities focussed on community gardens and on-site planting/ composting opportunities (including roof gardens) promoting community connectedness
- Fruit trees in streets (and in reserves) also offer sun protection/ shade and attractive streetscapes
- Healthy eating events as local/ regional activities
- Water fountains on pedestrian and cycling routes
- Co-location of open space, parks and community recreation facilities with cafes or kiosks providing healthy food options