Basket of fruits and vegetables

The Paper of the Month for October is from Nutrition Research Reviews and is entitled ‘A scoping review of the impact of Food Policy Groups on local food systems in high-income countries‘. The blog is written by author Sarah Goodwin and the paper is free to access for one month.

Today’s food systems in high-income countries face several challenges, including a lack of resiliency, resulting in an inconsistent food supply and changing food prices, especially during crises. When faced with this type of challenge, high-income countries tend to rely on short term food relief that doesn’t always meet people’s nutritional needs or choices. In addition, limited access to nutrition education and cooking skills programs makes it hard for those most at risk to use what food they do have effectively. To address these challenges, a focus on local or regional food systems is considered one way to boost food system resilience.  

Food Policy Groups (FPGs) have emerged across high income countries bringing together stakeholders from various sectors including government, agriculture, public health and more to identify local food problems and facilitate effective solutions across local or regional food systems. Based on the specific needs of a region, FPGs are involved in various activities such as advocating for changes in local or state policy to preserve farmland. They also facilitate partnerships and networks, source local food to strengthen community-based food -systems or run hands-on activities such as cooking, gardening or school meal programs. 

While many FPGs have detailed annual reports and websites showcasing the wide range of food systems activities they undertake, a comprehensive overview of these activities or an evaluation of their impact is absent. This research was inspired by the need to address this knowledge gap, offering insights into how FPGs influence local food systems in diverse urban and rural regions in high income countries. 

We systematically searched the existing literature and identified thirty-one documents published between 2002 and 2022 that reported on evaluated activities by FPGs. The good news? There’s evidence that FPGs positively impact local food systems around the world by focusing on improving food system equity, increasing knowledge and/or demand for and access to healthy food, and supporting environmental sustainability, food system resiliency and economic development by conducting a range of activities relevant to their regions, mostly in urban areas and to a lesser extent in rural areas. 

Given the focus on urban areas in the current evidence, understanding the impact of FPGs in rural areas warrants further research to address disparities in food access based on geography. Where FPGs exist, their impact on rural and regional food systems in high-income countries should be evaluated utilising universally accepted tools and frameworks to ensure consistent measurement of their impact across different contexts.