023 Healthy food environments and the urban context

Implementing the commitments to the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition


  • Brazil
  • Italy
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  • World Health Organization


The side event aims to advance the debate regarding healthy food environments and their challenges in urban contexts. Taking into account the crucial role that food systems play in the prevention and control of all forms of malnutrition, this side event will discuss how countries are organizing their policies to integrate the health and nutrition agenda with the food production agenda, considering its physical, economic, political, social and cultural aspects.

The side event will reinforce the importance of short circuits of production, supply and consumption; discuss measures to influence food choices, what kind of food is available for purchase and information on food; and address sanitary issues in large cities. Available evidence and data on the design of effective interventions and policies to improve food environments for better nutrition will be addressed as well. The side event aims to promote the exchange of experiences among countries, to identify gaps and challenges in public policies and to strengthen the commitment of different actors, with a view to enhancing food and nutrition security policies in large cities.

Key speakers/presenters

  • Mr. Alberto Beltrame -  Minister of State, Ministry of Social Development (MDS), Brazil
  • Mrs. Lilian dos Santos Rahal - National Secretary for Food and Nutrition Security, Ministry of Social Development (MDS), Brazil
  • Mr. Andrea Pezzana - Director, Clinical Nutrition, San Giovanni Bosco Hospital (ASL Torino), Italy
  • Mr. Francesco Branca, Director, Nutrition for Health and Development (WHO)
  • Mrs. Anna Lartey - Director, ESN (FAO)
  • Mr. Shenggen Fan – Director General, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
  • Mr. Nicolas Bricas -  International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food)


Main themes/issues discussed

  • The role of public policies to ensure supply and permanent access of the poor to adequate and healthy food and safeguard healthy eating habits (MDS, Brazil)
  • Improving the food environment for better nutrition in the urban context (WHO)
  • Italian traditions and foodways as a model of healthy food environments (ASL Torino, Italy)
  • A future revolution in urban food environment (IPES-Food )
  • Reshaping agri-food systems in an urbanized world (IFPRI)

Summary of key points

Rapid urbanization and changing diets are increasing pressure on food systems. There are substantial dietary differences between high and low-income groups. The challenge of addressing food deserts and food swamps, as well as the double burden of malnutrition among the poor, were particularly highlighted.

Relevance of using a “food system” approach – production, distribution,  consumption – and thus of designing public policies broad enough to promote the creation of a healthy food environments by tackling the production of  safe and nutritious food for healthy diets, its availability (sale and supply), access (income, food pricing, donation, school feeding programs) and consumption (healthy eating habits).

Addressing the issue of food loss and waste; shortening food supply chains; the potential of urban agriculture; regulatory measures; respecting local culture; promoting better habits play an important role in the achievement of healthier urban food environments.

Key take away messages

The action areas for improving the food environments for better nutrition in the urban context that have been discussed and indicate focus areas how cities can lead the progress of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition include the following:

  • Public procurement from family farming is an effective way of promoting short market circuits and bringing producers closer to consumers.
  • Regulatory measures - such as setting standards for the labelling of processed and ultra-processed food to inform consumers on ingredients and nutritious components of food, as well as taxing of sugary drinks  – may be used to tackle overweight and obesity.
  • Other important tools may be: urban agriculture; zoning policies that incentive access to safe and nutritious food for healthy diets through land use regulations; creation of environments for physical activities and infant care including breastfeeding facilities; regulation of street food; and promotion of marketing conducive to healthy diets.
  • Respecting the communities and their specific geographical, socio-economic and cultural characteristics plays an important role in the promotion of sustainable food environments for healthy diets. Italian foodways and the Terra Madre approach were presented as good models in this respect.
  • Comprehensive, high-quality research on the distribution of the multiple burdens of malnutrition; urban agriculture production and constraints; role of the informal food sector; among others; is critical to develop urban-tailored policies.
  • It is also essential to understand food behaviours, from consumer responsibility to the recognition of the role of food environment, in shaping individual choices and social organization.
CFS Side Event 023 - Healthy food environments and the urban context.