An unhealthy diet is among the leading global causes of death and disability.  In response, policies have been implemented throughout the world to support healthy food choices, including innovative policies targeting food marketing, nutrition labeling, and taxation of certain unhealthy foods.  Published as a Supplement to The Journal of Nutrition (JN), “Food Environment Policy Impact: Evaluation and Findings from the International Food Policy Study” evaluates the impact of many of these policies on various population groups, with an eye towards improving future food policy development and implementation.

Inational Food Policy Study provides comparisons within and between countries over time to assess changes in dietary patterns.

This JN Supplement consists of eight articles plus an introductory article, “The Conceptual Framework for the International Food Policy Study: Evaluating the Population-Level Impact of Food Policy,” which sets forth the approach and methods of the International Food Policy Study.  Launched in 2017, the International Food Policy Study provides comparisons within and between countries over time to assess changes in dietary patterns, focusing on the effect of food policy.  The study is a collaboration of more than a dozen researchers in the field of diet and nutrition, with most funding provided by a Population Health Intervention Research operating grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The International Food Policy Study consists of cross-sectional surveys conducted in five high- and upper-middle-income countries: Australia, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, and United States.  In each country, approximately 4,000 adults and 1,200 children aged 10-17 were recruited to complete an annual online survey, which featured consistent measures and methodologies across countries.  In 2019, the study also began surveying youth in Chile.  The surveys focus on three areas: 1) knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs associated with specific policies; 2) diet-related behaviors; and 3) dietary intake, including 24-hour dietary recalls for adults.

Dietary responses to the pandemic were highly variable.

Among the articles published in the JN Supplement, “Self-Reported Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Diet-Related Behaviors and Food Security in 5 Countries: Results from the International Food Policy Study 2020” offers fresh insights into the pandemic’s effect on food behaviors, food security, and overall diet quality.  According to the authors, “respondents reported important changes in how they sourced their food during the pandemic, with trends suggesting shifts towards less food prepared away from home and more healthful diets overall.”  The authors did, however, note that “changes in diet and food behaviors occurred in both healthful and less healthful directions, suggesting that dietary responses to the pandemic were highly variable.”  For example, approximately one-quarter of respondents in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom reported that the pandemic affected whether their household had enough to eat either “a little or a lot,” with higher proportions in the United States (~40%) and Mexico (~70%).

To reduce the exposure and power of unhealthy food and beverage marketing, governments should establish strong, comprehensive statutory regulations.

Adults’ Exposure to Unhealthy Food and Beverage Marketing: A Multi-Country Study in Australia, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States examines differences in adults’ self-reported exposure to unhealthy food and beverage marketing strategies.  According to the findings, “adults report a variety of exposures to unhealthy food marketing in all countries, but exposure was highest in Mexico.”  Specifically, the average number of unhealthy food marketing strategies over the course of 30 days to which participants reported being exposed ranged from 0.5 in the United Kingdom to 2.3 in Mexico.  “To effectively reduce the exposure and power of unhealthy food and beverage marketing,” the authors contend that “governments in Australia, Canada, Mexico, the United States, and the United Kingdom should establish strong, comprehensive statutory regulations and ongoing monitoring of such marketing.”

We invite you to peruse the entire Supplement.  In addition to the articles mentioned above, the supplement addresses such topics as nutrition labeling, initiatives to reduce meat consumption, school food programs, and more.  According to the study’s research team, “the International Food Policy Study project has the potential to address important gaps in national monitoring surveys for dietary patterns and to evaluate the impacts of novel food policies.”