Policy interventions to promote healthy eating: a review of what works, what does not and what is promising
Brambila Macias, J., Shankar, B., Capacci, S., Mazzocchi, M., Perez-Cueto, F.J., Verbeke, W. and Traill, W. B. (2011) Policy interventions to promote healthy eating: a review of what works, what does not and what is promising. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 32 (4). pp. 365-375. ISSN 1564-8265
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Unhealthy diets can lead to various diseases, which in turn can translate into a bigger burden for the state in the form of health services and lost production. Obesity alone has enormous costs and claims thousands of lives every year. Although diet quality in the European Union has improved across countries, it still falls well short of conformity with the World Health Organization dietary guidelines. In this review, we classify types of policy interventions addressing healthy eating and identify through a literature review what specific policy interventions are better suited to improve diets. Policy interventions are classified into two broad categories: information measures and measures targeting the market environment. Using this classification, we summarize a number of previous systematic reviews, academic papers, and institutional reports and draw some conclusions about their effectiveness. Of the information measures, policy interventions aimed at reducing or banning unhealthy food advertisements generally have had a weak positive effect on improving diets, while public information campaigns have been successful in raising awareness of unhealthy eating but have failed to translate the message into action. Nutritional labeling allows for informed choice. However, informed choice is not necessarily healthier; knowing or being able to read and interpret nutritional labeling on food purchased does not necessarily result in consumption of healthier foods. Interventions targeting the market environment, such as fiscal measures and nutrient, food, and diet standards, are rarer and generally more effective, though more intrusive. Overall, we conclude that measures to support informed choice have a mixed and limited record of success. On the other hand, measures to target the market environment are more intrusive but may be more effective.