Food environments, health and nutrition in South Africa: Mapping the research and policy terrain
van der Hoeven, Marinka
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The aim of this paper was to review existing research and policies related to food environments so as to identify research gaps towards a research agenda for the new Centre of Excellence in Food Security. Food environments influence food choices and nutritional status. Significant changes have taken place in the South African consumer food environments since the mid-1990s accompanied by increased consumption of processed and fast foods. Overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have increased while micronutrient deficiencies remain highly prevalent. This raises concerns regarding the impact of current food environments on health and nutrition. A review was conducted identifying existing conceptual frameworks for food environments, as well as South African research and policy documents, all addressing the association between environmental factors and eating behaviour/food choices amid increasing obesity and NCDs rates. South African research does not address food environments comprehensively, tending to focus on aspects such as the situation in home, school, community and retail settings. The associations between food environments, the role of the food industry, the food choices and behaviour of consumers remain under-researched. Nutrition research focuses on nutrient intakes without interrogating foods being consumed. While a progressive policy environment exists it remains largely unevaluated and the high prevalence of obesity, related NCDs and micronutrient deficiencies question its effectiveness. There is a need to conduct comprehensive food environment research that can inform policies and programmes to effectively address the high prevalence of over and undernutrition.