Local governments are failing to restrict the sale and marketing of unhealthy food and beverages, according to a new study.
The findings have led the authors to push for the NSW state government to establish a public health legislative framework that would require every council to have a consistent public health and wellbeing plan.
Similar frameworks already exist in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.
Researchers from the University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, and William Angliss Institute of TAFE assessed 2,266 policy and strategic documents related to food systems in Victorian and NSW local governments.
They found most councils were addressing education and enforcement of food safety regulations; supporting sustainable local food production and reducing food losses and food waste.
But the study uncovered very few councils offering pregnancy dietary advice; economic means to encourage healthier eating or discourage unhealthier foods; restrictions of unhealthy food in vending council-controlled vending machines; and restrictions of unhealthy food advertising.
Local governments in Victoria were more likely to be taking action than in NSW, while metropolitan councils were taking more action than regional municipalities, the study found.
Dr Belinda Reeve, from the University of Sydney Law School, said in a statement that most recommendations were levelled at the state government because it shaped the capacity for councils to make change.
Reeve said state governments could do more to stop low-quality food options including fast-food and convenience stores from having a greater saturation in some areas.
“State governments could effect change by enacting legislation that permits local governments to take action,” she said.
The research also found while local governments were focusing on the food system, few created a joined up food system policy.
“Some local governments, like City of Melbourne and City of Canada Bay, are setting positive examples that others can follow. They’ve got dedicated food systems policies that address issues such as sustainability and diet-related health in a joined-up way,” Reeve said.