- Food environments play a key role in shaping eating habits. Meanwhile, green spaces – such as parks, sports fields, woods and natural meadows – are key for healthy lifestyles, not only providing urban dwellers with spaces for recreational and physical activities (as well as a refuge from noise), but also indirectly contributing to local communities’ health by increasing urban resilience to the effects of climate change.
- Developing and maintaining healthy retail food environments and green spaces is of the utmost and pressing importance in urban centres. To this end, it is crucial to provide cities with tools to assess the availability, accessibility and use of food outlets and green spaces that facilitate healthy eating and living for urban dwellers.
- Existing tools to assess food and green environments have been developed and used mainly in high-income countries. This study shows that these tools can and should be adapted to low- and middle-income country settings.
- This study shows that small neighbourhood food shops are important for household food security, in particular for low- to middle-income households. At the same time, the study shows that consumers are disproportionately exposed to ultra-processed foods (UPFs) in these shops. The policy implication of this finding is that small neighbourhood shops must be incentivized to stock and sell greater amounts of fresh and minimally processed foods (for example, by improving their cold storage facilities), to make it easier for low- to middle-income households to adopt healthy diets.
- This study shows that in the poorest areas of cities, the availability of green areas (e.g. parks), which are so crucial for healthy lifestyles, is low. Good maintenance of green areas, increased safety through adequate management and an improved quality of user facilities are essential to improve the accessibility of green spaces and encourage people to use them regularly. The policy implications of these findings are twofold. First, it is important for green spaces to be distributed evenly within cities and to be served by public transportation. Second, municipalities need to actively involve community members in decision-making processes on the planning, design and management of urban green spaces, to ensure their long-term maintenance.
Assessment of retail food environments and green spaces for healthy cities