Facilitating Healthier Food Environments in Public Recreation Facilities: Results of a Pilot Project in British Columbia, Canada


  • Patti-Jean Naylor
  • Suzanne Vander Wekken
  • David Trill
  • Anne Kirbyson


Publicly funded recreation facilities, food environments, community nutrition


With rising rates of child and adult obesity, supporting positive nutrition choices in public buildings, including recreation facilities, had become increasingly important in British Columbia. While there was evidence that recreation facilities were not providing healthy food to patrons, there was motivation and willingness amongst many recreation managers and staff to change the situation. Evidence about how to change this situation, as well as support to make it happen was needed. The Healthy Food and Beverage Sales in Recreation Facilities and Local Government Buildings initiative (HFBS), funded by the British Columbia Healthy Living Alliance, provided planning tools, technical resources, training and seed funding to local governments to enhance the promotion and sale of healthy food and beverages in publicly funded recreation centres. In order to determine the feasibility of the HFBS approach, we examined the implementation process and short-term outcomes during the pilot phase.We used a mixed-methods, concurrent triangulation design to evaluate the initiative in 10 pilot communities over a six-month period. Local recreation staff in each community completed food environment assessments, vending product audits and patron surveys in recreation facilities before and after the initiative. We reviewed community applications and final reports to the grant agency to identify project activities and conducted semi-structured telephone interviews with recreation staff to explore the implementation process and identify common experiences in introducing healthier choices. Goals varied by community and included changing vending contracts, modifying concession offerings, reviewing program and event food service, policy development, and conducting awareness campaigns. A majority of the community project goals were achieved within the grant timeline (86%) and overall there were significant improvements in facility environment assessment scores (19%) and increases in healthy vending products offered between baseline at follow-up (19%). Survey results showed that patrons purchased from the vending machine or concession approximately one out of five visits and lack of selection was one of the cited reasons for not purchasing; however, this was cited as a barrier to choosing healthy options less often at the end of the initiative (50%) than at the beginning (65%). Key implementation themes highlighted by recreation staff in interviews included concerns about revenue loss, staffing, the time needed to change and the importance of gaining buy-in from decision makers (city managers, recreation boards and facility managers), industry, and the public.The HFBS initiative was a feasible approach to enhancing healthy eating environments in recreation facilities. The findings from this study provide information for recreation management and staff on how to approach changing the food environments within the facilities where they work. Further research using comparison designs is needed.





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