A study evaluating the implementation and impacts of INFORMAS from 2012 to 2020 has been published in the Annual Review of Public Health. Authors Gary Sacks, Janelle Kwon, Stefanie Vandevijvere, and Boyd Swinburn share key findings, lessons learned, and discuss future directions. Read the full report here.
As of June 2020, INFORMAS comprised researchers and public health practitioners from more than 85 institutions from 58 countries conducting research to assess several aspects of food environments. INFORMAS activities related to a mix of high-income (n = 25), middle-income (n = 26), and low-income countries (n = 7).
The public sector module was the most frequently implemented module across countries: 15 countries completed the assessment of government policies to support healthier food environments using the Food-EPI approach, and a further 24 countries were in the process of conducting or planning assessments as of June 2020.
As of June 2020, four countries (Australia, Canada, Malaysia, and New Zealand) had assessed the nutrition commitments of food companies using the BIA-Obesity (Business Impact Assessment–Obesity and population nutrition) approach as part of the private sector module. In addition, the component of the private sector module that monitors the corporate political activity of food companies had been implemented in several countries (including Australia, Fiji, France, South Africa, and Thailand). Further assessment of companies’ performance in relation to nutrition issues, such as reformulation and marketing, requires access to detailed food supply and marketing data, so scale-up of these components of the private sector module are likely to be less feasible in lower-resource settings.
The most commonly implemented impact modules were food promotion, with a predominant focus on monitoring television advertising; food composition; and food labeling. The remaining food environment modules had been less widely applied.
- Methodological advancements
- Capacity building
- Accountability and advocacy
- Policy development, implementation and evaluation
Lessons learned, and future directions
The combination of rigorous, scientific methods; flexibility to adapt standardized approaches to local contexts; a strong focus on engagement with decision makers as part of INFORMAS activities; and structures that promote collaboration and capacity building served to encourage widespread uptake of INFORMAS modules. The authors note the need for conducting repeated studies, further development of certain areas within individual modules, and continued evaluation of INFORMAS activities.
With the addition of indicators related to environmental sustainability, INFORMAS-based monitoring could provide a platform for collaborations across groups advocating for healthy and sustainable food environments.