Creating a healthier eating environment on campus: feed your need to succeed
Creating a healthier eating environment, through increasing the availability and accessibility of healthier food and beverage choices, may shift eating behaviour in a favourable direction and improve the nutritional status of consumers. However, evidence about how to change eating environments, without compromising foodservice financial and operational objectives, is lacking.
A programme, called Feed Your Need to Succeed (FNS), which created a healthier eating environment in four university-managed food outlets over a two year period, was trialled. Measurable and specific goals of the programme were to proportionally increase the sales of healthier choices, to not compromise the profitability or operational load of the foodservice, and to document the process of change to provide guidelines for others. FNS was developed and implemented within a supportive environment, including consultation, collaboration and partnership with the university foodservice operation, their suppliers and consumers: staff and students. Three stages: needs assessment, development and implementation, and evaluation were undertaken through iterative stages of action research. Data were collected by both quantitative and qualitative research methods, validated by triangulation, and used to inform the FNS programme and change management process. Research methods used were: focus group and online discussion forum, interviews and collaborative reflective practice, an observational environmental audit and three years of detailed sales reports from the four food outlets. Staff and students identified that cost saving, convenience, and communication strategies would encourage them to choose healthier choices. The baseline observational environmental audit identified that the eating environment on campus had very little promotion of healthier or less healthy eating patterns. The fifteen FNS actions, clustered into four overarching strategies (cost, convenience, communication and foodservice support), were in place from April 2010, and the evaluation was in October 2010. Examples of FNS actions were: competitively priced fruit and muesli bars, healthier choices in vending machines and reformulated heated savouries. FNS actions continued to be maintained in the food outlets after the evaluation. Three critical success factors for development and implementation of FNS were: developing effective and trusting relationships with the foodservice team, adopting a robust and transparent nutrient profiling tool to identify healthier choices, and realistic, negotiated, win-win solutions for the foodservice operation and consumers. The proportion of healthier choices purchased, increased from 25.8% in 2008, to 30.3% in 2009 and 31.1% in 2010, with no apparent affect on profitability or change in the number of healthier product lines available. Competitively priced healthier snacks (fruit) in particular, were identified by staff and students as an effective and appropriate action and this was supported by an 84% increase in fruit sales. A ‘Guiding framework for foodservice change’ was developed from the research findings, to assist other foodservice operations to transition to a healthier eating environment. This translational action research provides evidence that creating a healthier eating environment can favourably shift purchasing patterns. However, the evidence provided about how foodservice operations can make changes, without compromising financial or operational objectives, is essential for encouraging foodservice operations to create healthier eating environments.