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Voluntary nutrition guidelines to support healthy eating in recreation and sports settings are ineffective: findings from a prospective study

1 Healthy Populations Institute, Dalhousie University, PO Box 15000, 1318 Robie Street, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2 Canada
2 Faculty of Education and Department of Child and Youth Study, Mount Saint Vincent University, 166 Bedford Highway, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3M 2J6
3 Department of Community Health Sciences, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, 3280 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, AB T2N 4Z6 Canada
4 School of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education, University of Victoria, PO Box 3015 Stn CSC, Victoria, BC V8W 3P1 Canada
5 School of Health and Human Performance, Dalhousie University, Stairs House, PO Box 15000, 6230 South Street, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2 Canada

topical section: Health Behavior, Health Promotion and Society

Interventions to support healthy eating among populations are needed to address diet-related chronic disease. Recreation and sport settings are increasingly identified as ideal settings for promoting overall health, particularly for children, through creation of environments that support positive health behaviours. These publicly funded settings typically support health through physical activity promotion. However, the food environment within them is often not reflective of nutrition guidelines. As more jurisdictions release nutrition guidelines in such settings, the purpose of this study was to assess whether voluntary nutrition guidelines, released in 2015 in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, had any impact on food environments in these settings. Baseline and follow-up audits of food environments were conducted one year before (in 30 facilities) and one year after guideline release (in 27 facilities). Audits involved classifying all foods and beverages within vending machines and concessions as Do Not Sell, Minimum, Moderate, or Maximum nutrition, using criteria provided in the guidelines. The proportion of items within each category was calculated, and differences from pre- to post-guideline release were assessed using Chi-squared statistics. Results indicated limited change in food and beverage provision from pre- to post- guideline release. In fact, from pre- to post-guideline release, the proportion of Do Not Sell vending beverages and concession foods increased significantly, while Maximum concession beverages decreased, suggesting a worsening of the food environment post-guideline release. Findings suggest that voluntary guidelines alone are insufficient to improve food environments in recreation and sport settings. For widespread changes in the food environment of these settings to occur, more attention needs to be paid to reducing social, cultural, political and economic barriers to change (real and perceived) that have been identified in these settings, alongside developing leadership and capacity within facilities, to ensure that positive changes to food environments can be implemented and sustained.
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