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Health Series: Research Spotlight

Engaging small businesses in healthy food service initiatives

New study outlines lessons for local governments learned from a London healthy food service policy.

by Shamim Quadir (Senior Communications Officer)

An unhealthy diet is estimated to be the second highest behavioural risk factor contributing to disability-adjusted life years lost worldwide, and the highest risk factor for death in 2017.

Unhealthy diets include those high in salt and sugar sweetened beverages, and low in whole grains and fruits and vegetables. Contributing to these unhealthy diets are the food environments in which people live, work, play and learn.

Developed in 2012, the Healthier Catering Commitment (HCC) is a food service initiative where local governments in London work with small food businesses to provide healthier food and drinks. The work results in the awarding of HCC certification once the business’ food and beverage offerings have been assessed to meet specific, centrally-defined nutrition criteria.  

In a new study from City, University of London and Monash University, the University of Sydney and Deakin University in Australia, researchers interviewed 22 professionals involved the delivery and implementation of HCC. The aim of the study was to identify practical learnings for how other local governments can help overcome barriers associated with implementing healthy food service initiatives in their own locales.

The interviewees had either worked across different levels of local government involved in the delivery of the HCC, or were professionals such as suppliers, who could provide context to its implementation.

The participants in the study were engaged in semi-structured interviews designed to draw on their experience and elicit their perceptions of what the barriers and facilitators have been to the implementation of the HCC in London. A thematic analysis was performed on participant responses, with results presented according to a logic pathway of ideal implementation in order to provide practical, focused insights.  

The study findings lead to the following recommendations for healthy food service initiatives led by local government:

Use existing networks and expertise

Identify and capitalise on existing capacity, relationships and skillsets within and across local government departments.

Offer flexible approaches

Allow local governments flexibility to tailor their approach, incentives and support to meet the needs of their local businesses.

Provide central resources

Develop standard forms, information flyers and other resources to avoid duplication of effort.

Incentivise and reward participation

Provide incentives such as free training to encourage businesses to join. Publicly acknowledge businesses who are good examples to others for instance through award ceremonies.

Build awareness

Work on increasing the demand for healthy food initiatives by promoting the initiative to food service retailers and customers.

Measure the impact and maintenance

Evaluate the outcomes and sustainability of the initiative and incorporate improvements.

Dr Tara Boelsen-Robinson, first author of the study and Research Fellow within the Centre of Research Excellence (CRE) in Food Retail Environments for Health (RE-FRESH) at Deakin University, said:

The Healthier Catering Commitment is one example of how London local authorities are acting in innovative ways to create healthier food environments for their communities. Our study provides insight into how local governments around the world can learn from the successes of the HCC and apply it in their own context

The study was published in the journal, Public Health Nutrition.

Find out more

The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre (TAPPC) has created an infographic outlining the recommendations of the study, and where to find further information, which can be viewed on the TAPPC website.

Visit the web page of the Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London.

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