Exploring Public Health’s roles and limitations in advancing food security in British Columbia

Barbara A. Seed, Tim M. Lang, Martin J. Caraher, Aleck S. Ostry


OBJECTIVES: This research analyzes the roles and limitations of Public Health in British Columbia in advancing food security through the integration of food security initiatives into its policies and programs. It asks the question, can Public Health advance food security? If so, how, and what are its limitations?

METHODS: This policy analysis merges findings from 38 key informant interviews conducted with government and civil society stakeholders involved in the development of food security initiatives, along with an examination of relevant documents. The Population Health Template is used to delineate and analyze Public Health roles in food security.

RESULTS: Public Health was able to advance food security in some ways, such as the adoption of food security as a core public health program. Public Health’s leadership role in food security is constrained by a restricted mandate, limited ability to collaborate across a wide range of sectors and levels, as well as internal conflict within Public Health between Food Security and Food Protection programs.

CONCLUSIONS: Public Health has a role in advancing food security, but it also faces limitations. As the limitations are primarily systemic and institutional, recommendations to overcome them are not simple but, rather, require movement toward embracing the determinants of health and regulatory pluralism. The results also suggest that the historic role of Public Health in food security remains salient today.


Food security; public health; population health template; determinants of health; regulatory pluralism

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17269/cjph.105.4414