The higher education sector caters to almost 7% of the Australian population. Food environments on university campuses therefore have an important influence on the diets of students and staff. In particular, universities are a place where young adults spend a significant amount of time, at a stage in their lives where they are exercising greater independence in food choices. By ensuring all food service providers and vending machines across campuses offer healthy food and drinks across campuses, universities can help promote healthy eating and improve diets.
In 2021-22, nine Australian universities across four states and territories (VIC, TAS, QLD, NSW) were assessed on the healthiness, equity and environmental sustainability of their campus food environments using the Uni-Food tool. Desk-based research and campus-based audits were used to assess each university’s performance across the indicators in the Uni-Food tool, resulting in an overall score from 0-100.
The average score across all universities was 46/100, with scores ranging from 27/100 to 66/100.
We found some strong examples of universities working to address the healthiness, equity and environmental sustainability of campus food environments, for example:
- Some universities had made a commitment to improving the healthiness, equity and environmental sustainability of campus food environments
- All universities had strategies in place to address environmental impact concerns, for example, waste and recycling, food packaging and servingware, water use and energy and emissions.
- The majority of universities had initiatives in place to develop staff and student skills and awareness around healthy and sustainable food, for example, community gardens and nutrition counselling
- Some universities had negotiated contracts with vending machines suppliers to ensure healthy food is promoted
However, most universities lacked comprehensive policies and commitments to improve the healthiness, equity and environmental sustainability of their campus food environments.
There is opportunity for all universities to take steps to create healthier, equitable and more environmentally sustainable food environments, including:
- Create university-wide policies that limit the availability of unhealthy foods and beverages (e.g. sugary drinks) on campus, including at food retail outlets and vending machines. Set SMART targets for the proportion of healthy and environmentally sustainable foods procured, provided and sold on campus
- Ensure contracts with food retailers include requirements for health and environmental sustainability, including healthy and sustainable food procurement and provision, food marketing, nutritional and environmental information/labelling
- Show leadership by ensuring university catering and events promote the provision of healthy and environmentally sustainable foods and beverages
- Regularly monitor food environments on campus, including products available, retail environments, campus services, and staff/student diets and food security
Other stakeholders, including governments, can play a role in incentivising universities to adopt recommended actions and contribute to efforts to create healthier, equitable and more environmentally sustainable food environments for the populations they serve.
For more information
Mann D, Kwon J, Naughton S, Boylan S, Chan J, Charlton K, Dancey J, Dent C, Grech A, Hobbs V, Lamond S, Murray S, Yong M, Sacks G. Development of the University Food Environment Assessment (Uni-Food) Tool and Process to Benchmark the Healthiness, Equity, and Environmental Sustainability of University Food Environments. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Nov 12;18(22):11895