Project 'Healthy on-the-go' sets course for healthier food environment along motorways

March 25, 2024

For those who want something to eat or drink on-the-go, along the motorway, the healthy choice is usually not the easiest one. To encourage change, researchers from the Chair Group Consumption and Healthy Lifestyle at Wageningen University & Research and the Netherlands Nutrition Center have brought together representatives from interested organisations and companies to develop concrete actions that can make the motorway offerings healthier.

This project is part of the Region Deal Foodvalley, which has set as one of its goals to create an environment that entices people to eat healthy and sustainable. The results of the project are presented in the report ‘Healthy on the go’. Main conclusions: many factors and underling mechanisms are currently perpetuating the predominantly unhealthy food environment along motorways, making multiple actions necessary to achieve a healthier food environment on the road. This can only be achieved with collective efforts.

From insights to concrete actions

To arrive at the action points in the report, stakeholders from core organisations and companies (e.g., petrol stations, roadside restaurants, supermarkets, governments, manufacturers, transport companies) participated in person in two workshops. In the first meeting, participants identified factors influencing the current, largely unhealthy food and drink environment along motorways and captured the influence of these factors in a systems map. From this map, it becomes apparent how various factors perpetuate the current environment, simultaneously illustrating the complexity of the issue. During the second meeting and based on this systems map, participants collectively formulated 31 concrete actions to address the identified challenges and improve the food environment along highways.

A collective effort for sustainable change

This project hits the nail on the head. Dr Maartje Poelman, Associate Professor at Wageningen University & Research explains: "many different factors are currently maintaining the predominantly unhealthy food environment along motorways. To effectuate progress to a healthier food environment, it is imperative that changes need to be implemented across various facets. Therefore, we need to take multiple actions simultaneously. It requires a coordinated approach to achieve sustainable and impactful results. The insights gathered from this research offer a foundation for further navigating this challenge”.

Creating a healthier food environment together

Kathelijne Bottema, Advisor Eating Environments at the Netherlands Nutrition Center: "With the report 'Healthy on the go’ we have jointly mapped out which concrete actions could contribute to a healthier food environment along our motorways.” The identified actions are grouped into six different themes, including supply chain collaboration, food providers/industry, government, the road user, societal factors and global trends.

An example of an identified action is: ‘Establish a steering committee made up of various stakeholders to collaborate on a healthy food environment on the road, thereby giving substance to the objective outlined in the National Prevention Agreement’. Another example of an identified action is: ‘Make healthy food availability part of governmental lease permits for rest stops along the road’. This study is only the first step; long-term and intensive efforts are needed to address the challenges in this complex system. To do this, we need efforts and commitment of all parties involved.”

Region Deal Foodvalley

This project, part of Wageningen University & Research, is part of the "Region Deal Foodvalley", theme 2: "Healthy nutrition from early start to old age". Region Deal Foodvalley is a collaboration of the national government, parties from the region and knowledge organizations. One of the goals of the Region Deal Foodvalley is to create an environment that encourages people to eat healthy food, for example in the neighborhood, restaurants, at work, schools, including on-the-go. Read more about the Region Deal Foodvalley on their website.