Local food systems

Food systemsBackground and aim

Local Authorities have taken the lead for tackling rising local obesity rates in England (Local Government Association 2013). The approaches considered by local government include how to use structural levels focusing on a range of health determinants such as increasing physical activity through active transport and greenspace, and reducing access to unhealthy food such as fast food. Local practitioners and policymakers have a variety of ‘levers’ (i.e. policies and interventions) that they can apply to affect change, and this can potentially change the behaviour of individuals and population groups leading to health improvement goals. The choice of levers is likely to be influenced by the political climate, constitutional and legal restrictions on government authority, and the economic environment.

In contrast, Local Authorities in England do not routinely use the statutory policy levers available to them, such as planning and licencing, in strategic ways to improve local food availability, and thus potentially improve diet and health, as in other areas of public health.

A new methodological approach is required to understand how statutory and other potential local levers can be better used within the local food system within which they are embedded. We will seek to do this in a novel way, by engaging with practitioners and the public across multiple local authority sectors, and geographical regions, to identify possible levers and intervention points. We will explore the current and potential use of these levers through case study research by applying a systems perspective.

This project aims to identify and map, in collaboration with local authority practitioners and the public, the use of policy levers that can be used to effect population health change in the local food system that are common across English Local Authorities.

We aim to understand how LA policymakers in a range of sectors (e.g. PH, planning, licencing, environmental health, trading standards), and the public, conceptualise the problem of food and healthy diets, and the relationship to obesity and other health outcomes, at a local level.

We will do this via workshops and use tracer case study research of LAs and communities that have used food-related policy levers to achieve public health objectives, explore what are the factors that led to successful outcomes and what have been limiting factors.

This project runs from July 2018 to June 2019 and is funded through NIHR SPHR funding scheme.

Want to know more? 

For more information about the project contact joana.reynolds@lshtm.ac.uk (Assistant Professor, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine)