Encouraging healthier food choices: the role of public policies targeting the consumer


The nutrition transition has led to a relative shift in public health issues (Bodirsky, 2020). Since the twentieth century, the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases have increased at a worrying rate, while communicable diseases have tended to decrease (Polton, 2023). Acting on the food environment represents both significant challenges and opportunities for directing public health towards preventing these chronic diseases and promoting health (Chen et li, 2024).

To achieve this, collective and simultaneous action by all stakeholders is required (Esnouf et al., 2011) and public policies are one of the levers for achieving this. This month issue of the Global Fruit and Vegetables Newsletter approaches these policies from a “consumer” perspective.

The first article (Gokani, 2024) explores how European Union legislation is evolving to better inform and empower consumers in their food choices. The authors analysed the various policies and regulations aimed at improving nutritional transparency and promoting healthier food choices. Key measures include mandatory nutrition labelling, restrictions on the advertising of unhealthy foods, and initiatives to make healthy options more visible and accessible. The emphasis is on providing clear and understandable information to help consumers make informed decisions about their diet.

The second article (Greatorex Brooks & McInerney, 2023) is a review examining community-based fruit and vegetable prescription programs, aimed to increase consumption of these products among vulnerable populations. The programs analysed “prescriptions” or vouchers for fresh fruit and vegetables, often in collaboration with health care providers and local markets. The results show that these initiatives can significantly improve access to healthy foods and have positive effects on participants’ health. However, the review also highlights challenges such as sustainable funding and effective integration into existing health systems.

The third article (Banerjee et al., 2024) introduce the concept of “Nudge Plus”, an advance on simple nudging. This model incorporates elements of reflection, increasing transparency and autonomy for individuals in the face of nudges. Unlike traditional nudges, which subtly modify the architecture of choices, Nudge Plus includes feedback mechanisms and incentives for personal reflection. For example, this could include personal commitments or reminders that encourage individuals to reflect on their food decisions and their long-term impacts on health.

These articles converge towards a vision in which information, transparency and the active involvement of consumers are essential to promote healthy food choices. Legislation and community programs, when combined with strategies such as Nudge Plus, can create an environment conducive to sustainable behavioural change that benefits public health.

Finally, our infographic summarises the most frequently implemented policies in OECD countries to promote healthy food choices.

JM Lecerf
Jean-Michel Lecerf Endocrinologist, specialist in metabolic and nutritional diseases
Jean Michel Lecerf is a physician, and his practice has been dedicated to nutrition since the beginning of his career, carried out in Lille both in hospitals and at the Institut Pasteur de Lille where he founded in 1982 a nutrition department renowned for its clinical research activities and for its communication actions. Jean-Michel is a renowned expert, member of numerous scientific societies: public (national agencies) and private (food industries) scientific committees. He is member of the Académie d’Agriculture de France. He has devoted his clinical research activity to lipid metabolism and has published numerous works on this theme. Jean-Michel is also very active in teaching and communicating with health professionals as well as patients and consumers.
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