Local government is ideally placed to develop, lead and implement local policies to influence many determinants of health. These policies include actions in areas such as transport, roads, parks, waste, land use, housing and urban planning, recreation and cultural activities and creating safe public places.
Under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008, councils are required to protect, improve and promote public health and wellbeing within their municipality and prepare a municipal public health and wellbeing plan (MPHWP) every four years. They have a broad role in health promotion, the provision of health services such as immunisation, early childhood and home and community care services and other services such as libraries. Local councils are also major employers in many communities (refer to guidance for workplaces).
Evidence-based actions that a local government can take to encourage healthy and sustainable food, and become a healthier place include:
Lead by example, by supplying and promoting healthier food and drink options for staff and visitors
Local government is a significant employer and an important interface to the local community. Local government also host numerous public events and community meetings. To drive effective and sustained change towards healthier eating, many councils have embedded Healthy Choices food and drink policy guidelines within contracts for event catering for staff and visitors. For implementation support, visit the Healthy Eating Advisory Service.
By acting on healthy food and drink provision, local councils can progress to meet the healthy eating benchmark of the Department of Health and Human Services Achievement Program.
Embed healthy food and drink supply and promotion guidelines within local government facilities, clubs, services and community events
Many children in Victoria are growing up in communities saturated with the supply and promotion of unhealthy food and drinks. This has a significant impact on dietary consumption, with children consuming up to 40 per cent of their daily intake from discretionary choices like biscuits, cakes, confectionary, ice cream, crisps, pastries, pies and soft drinks. Councils manage a range of community facilities (particularly for sport and recreation) and host large scale community events and festivals. Many Victorian councils have led the way by embedding the Healthy Choices food and drink policy guidelines into council managed sport, recreation and swimming facilities, as well as service provider contracts and leasing agreements with sporting clubs. By using the Healthy Choices guidelines, facility managers can ensure that food and drinks available to staff, players and spectators are healthy, and compliment positive messages about the importance of physical activity for good health.
The Healthy Eating Advisory Service provides specialist support for organisations who are putting Healthy Choices into practice and can connect local government with lead adopters and case examples that demonstrate the business case for change.
Implement initiatives and approaches to support healthier lifestyles and habits across the lifespan, particularly in children's early years
The first 1000 days (the period from conception to two years of age) are critical for establishing nutrition behaviours that maximise lifelong health and reduce the risk of developing obesity. Local councils provide universal maternal and child health, and child care services which can promote evidence-informed pathways for children and families, including skills and structures to support maternal nutrition, breastfeeding, introduction to solids, oral health and childhood nutrition. Enhanced support and planning to engage with vulnerable groups at this critical life stage is beneficial, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and those with lower socioeconomic status.
Create supportive neighbourhoods to increase access to healthy and affordable food (including for vulnerable groups)
Local councils are uniquely positioned to support local food system change through increasing access to healthy, sustainable and affordable food for all community groups including vulnerable populations at risk of food insecurity. This can take the form of local planning and council policies, healthy procurement practices, fresh food recovery and emergency food relief, local food production, community gardens, healthy retail in public settings, as well as measures to minimise food waste and packaging. Working with cross sector partners is essential in this process. Actions to increase access to tap water (preferably fluoridated where available) should also be considered.