Background on Environment & Policy
What are environment and policy strategies?
- Environment and policy interventions help create healthy places and practices to support healthy community members.
- Environmental interventions are designed to modify structures and physical surroundings in ways that improve individuals’ capacity to make healthy nutrition choices that can impact their own health or the health of those around them.
- Policy interventions are laws or regulations that are put in place to achieve a goal, including organizational policies or public policies at the local, state or national levels. Policies are an important way to focus on the social, economic, and environmental factors that serve to create and or enable individual balanced eating patterns.
- Environment and policy interventions are intended to improve behaviors and environments in order to address the health effects of nutrition behaviors. Environment and policy interventions can include:
- Policies that support increased consumption of nutrient-dense foods and beverages (e.g., fruits, vegetables, juices, whole grains, milk) from the basic food groups;
- Policies that support decreased consumption of foods or drinks with too many calories and too much saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt, and alcohol; and
- Environmental interventions that work to change individuals’ eating patterns by increasing access to nutritious foods (e.g., community gardens, produce markets, restaurants with healthy options) and reducing barriers to consumption of nutritious foods (e.g., cost of nutritious foods, food vendors and distributors).
Why are environment and policy strategies useful?
- Environment and policy interventions are attractive because they have the potential to reach all community members and create community changes that last much longer than most other types of interventions. It is believed that changes in environments and policies are critical to creating broad-based changes in nutrition and adoption of balanced eating patterns.
How can I use environment and policy strategies in my nutrition intervention?
- Nutrition environment and policy interventions affect the availability of and access to food as well as incentives to adopt balanced eating patterns. These may include enhanced access interventions to minimize barriers to eating different foods, urban planning and transportation interventions to increase the availability of foods in your organization or community, and policy changes.
- Food availability and access interventions act to change food availability in a wide variety of food outlets, including cafeterias and restaurants, grocery stores, or vending machines. This may entail adding new items or options or modifying existing recipes. These interventions may also act to change the availability or access to options for attaining healthy eating patterns at events in worksites or faith based settings. These interventions have also been conducted to change the location of various foods, or the portion sizes of various food items. Other interventions to increase food availability and access have included development of food outlets. For example, a grocery store in underserved area, some with requirements for certain percentage of employees to be hired from the community served. Others have developed community or school gardens. The produce from the garden may be consumed by growers or distributed to neighbors, homeless shelters, assisted living facilities, or sold in school cafeterias. Alternately, others have worked with existing growers to develop produce markets in areas where fruits and vegetables are otherwise not readily available.
- Incentives have been used to encourage the purchase of foods that follow recommended eating patterns (e.g., low fat, sugar, or sodium foods, fruits and vegetables. These interventions eliminate or lower the cost of foods that enable individuals to meet recommended eating patterns, or they provide raffle tickets to individuals purchasing targeted food (e.g., low fat milk or fruit) or coupons for purchase of certain food items (e.g., produce coupons).
- Nutrition policy interventions may include laws, regulations, or rules in worksites, grocery stores, restaurants or food manufacturing that influences the nutrition environment. These interventions may include requiring that a certain percentage of food offered in a worksite or school cafeteria be low fat, or banning certain types of food offerings. Alternately, some have worked with manufacturers to label food to highlight its nutritional value. This might include a sticker labeling the product as having a particular nutrient content (low fat or low sodium) or it may simply highlight that it fits within certain dietary recommendations (recommended for those wishing to maintain a heart healthy diet). Other policies may act to limit access to unhealthy options. For example, schools may restrict the use of candy and sweets as “rewards” for students.
With whom should I work to develop and implement environment and policy strategies in my nutrition intervention?
- In order to create policies and environments that support balanced eating patterns in your organization, you may need to work with management and decision-makers to decide what makes sense for the organization (e.g., changes to vending machines, changes to cafeteria menus).
- In the community, you may want to meet with local organizations (e.g., educational institutions, community organizations) to decide what can be implemented as well as policy- and decision-makers to develop, enforce, and evaluate these policies and changes to the environment.
- It is also critical to work with local businesses that can help to implement these interventions (e.g., restaurant and grocery store owners and managers; food manufacturers and producers).
- You might consider working with experts in public policy, law, advocacy, law enforcement, community organizing, insurance or other partners to decide what changes can be made to improve the community as well as how these interventions can be promoted.
How can I enhance environment and policy strategies in my nutrition intervention?
- Intervention strategies such as group education and campaigns and promotions are often used in conjunction with environment and policy interventions. These strategies can be used to provide information to vendors, restaurants, bars, worksites, or other places on the benefits of balanced eating patterns, guidance to encourage and enforce the desired policies, and communication to let others know about the environmental interventions and or polices (e.g., newspaper, radio and television ads).