An initiative sponsored by the Association pour la santé publique du Québec

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Improving Food Options

Cities play a major role in creating environments that favour a healthy lifestyle. In order to foster and promote healthy eating, various courses of action can be taken at the municipal level, including:

Improve food options in municipal establishments

A food policy can be implemented to ensure the quality of the food options in municipal buildings, such as hockey arenas, cultural and recreational centres, and city halls. The elimination of deep-fried foods, trans fat, and candy vending machines are a few examples of the choices made by certain towns and cities.

As part of the project titled La santé au menu (Putting health on the menu), a companion guide titled Guide d'accompagnement en aréna was produced to support hockey arenas in their efforts to offer healthy food options.

Various towns and cities have undertaken interesting initiatives as well. Click here to learn more.

Importance of a municipal food policy

Certain initiatives aimed at improving food options have been implemented either without first being enshrined in an official policy or merely by way of a municipal council resolution. In these cases, though we can applaud a town or city’s interest in taking such action, the fact that these measures are at risk with every change in the municipal administration is cause for concern. This is why adopting a food policy is of the utmost importance.

Offer healthy choices at public festivities and events

Special events afford an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that it is possible to eat healthy and have fun.

Some of the special events organized by municipalities:

  • Festivities/celebrations
  • Day camps
  • Sports tournaments (e.g., Quebec Games)
  • Recreational activities

To help you improve the food options at public festivities, you can consult the reference guide to creating a balanced menu titled Guide pour l'élaboration de menu équilibré (in French) prepared by the Direction de santé publique des Laurentides (Laurentians Regional Public Health). Organizations in the MRC de Drummond (Drummond regional county municipality) can also obtain free of charge the reference guide titled Ensemble, mangeons bien, fêtons vert (Eating healthy and celebrating green, together) published by the CSSS Drummond (Drummond health and social services centre).

Ban the sale of energy drinks

Passing a resolution banning the sale of energy drinks in municipal buildings is a strategy being adopted by more and more municipalities particularly in view of the risks associated with the consumption of this product by young people who frequent these establishments.

Increase the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables

Cities can adopt by-laws to allow itinerant merchants to sell fresh fruit and vegetables in parks at affordable prices, to set up farmers’ markets or to foster the deployment of urban agriculture.

  • Support for the Fruixi project, a creative endeavour to sell fresh produce on delivery trikes, has made it possible to render fruit and vegetables more accessible to disadvantaged groups and persons living with chronic conditions. This project was set up by Marché solidaire Frontenac (Frontenac cooperative market), in partnership with various organizations, including the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Montréal (Université de Montréal teaching hospital).
  • Urban and near-urban agriculture, whether it is practised in community gardens, on rooftops or in backyards, is growing in popularity. Aside from the dietary benefits if affords city dwellers, this type of agriculture carries various advantages for municipalities as well, as evidenced on the website of the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, among other places.
Engage in strategic land use planning

Strategic land use planning can contribute to improve food options.

  • Cities have the power to incentivize the presence of food retailers offering healthy foods at affordable prices (fruit stands, supermarkets) throughout their territory and particularly in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
  • The use of urban planning tools (e.g., zoning) can serve to limit the presence of fast-food restaurants in the vicinity of schools given that this proximity is associated with a higher rate of obesity among young people and that it works against the efforts deployed by schools to offer students healthy food choices. To learn more about this option, consult the Guide to The School Zone and Nutrition: Courses of Action for the Municipal Sector from the Association pour la santé publique du Québec (Quebec Public Health Association).
Install water fountains

Municipalities can also promote healthy hydration by making water fountains available, particularly those with spouts for filling water bottles. By facilitating such access, cities play a key role in promoting water as nature’s sensible thirst quencher.

According to an Ipsos survey conducted in November 2012, 96% of Quebecers believed it was important or very important to have access to water fountains in public places.

Greater access to drinking water could, among other things, contribute to reduce the appeal of sugar-sweetened beverages available everywhere. Check out volume 3 of our report on the marketing of sugar-sweetened beverages titled Place: A Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Always at Your Fingertips to learn more on the subject.