Effective government policies are essential to increase the healthiness of food environments and to reduce obesity, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), and their related inequalities. Food environments are defined as the collective physical, economic, policy and socio-cultural surroundings, opportunities and conditions that influence people’s food and beverage choices and nutritional status.
Unhealthy food environments lead to unhealthy diets and excess energy intake which have consequences in levels of morbidity and mortality. It is critical that governments implement preventive policies and actions to match the magnitude of the burden that unhealthy diets are creating. Monitoring the level of implementation of the policies and actions recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) is an important part of ensuring progress towards better nutritional health. The Healthy Food Environment Policy Index (Food-EPI) was developed by the International Network for Food and Obesity/NCDs Research, Monitoring and Action Support (INFORMAS) in 2013 to measure the extent of implementation of healthy food environment policies by governments compared to international best practice. The Food-EPI index consists of two components (Policies and Infrastructure Support), 13 domains and 47 good practice indicators. A national expert panel aims to rate the level of implementation of policies on food environments by the Government against international best practice, and then, based on the implementation gaps, propose and prioritise key actions for implementation by the government.
The Food-EPI tool and process were first pilot tested and implemented in New Zealand in 2014 and then again in 2017 and 2020. Since 2014, 15 countries have implemented Food-EPI and more than 10 other countries are in the preparational phase. Several countries have also implemented innovations to the original protocol, process and methodology. A first multi-country study including results from 11 countries has been completed and published in Obesity Reviews.
As part of the meals4NCDs project and several other projects in Africa, the Food-EPI is being implemented in about 10 African countries.
The project forms a part of INFORMAS (International Network for Food and Obesity/NCDs Research, Monitoring and Action Support), a global network of public-interest organisations and researchers that seeks to monitor and benchmark public and private sector actions to create healthy food environments and reduce obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) globally. INFORMAS is coordinated by the University of Auckland.
The intention is to repeat this process on a regular basis and thus to track progress over time. The findings will be communicated broadly as part of efforts to increase awareness and accountability.