Food retail: Local, provincial and territorial planning policies for unhealthy food outlets

Learn how local, provincial and territorial governments can increase healthy eating with planning policies that limit unhealthy food outlets

Inside this healthy eating policy pack

Planning policies for unhealthy food outlets


Food retail


Planning policies for unhealthy food outlets 1,2

  • Planning restrictions on density or placement of outlets selling mainly unhealthy foods in communities 1,3
  • Mandatory standards for food available in immediate vicinity of schools 3

Degree of policy adoption*

Provinces and territories: LOW
31 Canadian municipalities:** LOW

Current action(s) in Canada

Provinces and territories

While all provinces and territories have planning acts that provide direction related to community planning and land use as well as guidance on authority of local governments, these acts generally do not address specifics related to healthy food environments.

Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement goes beyond what is adopted in other jurisdictions, providing additional guidance on land use and provides direction on healthy community planning across the province.

31 Canadian municipalities**

A few local governments have introduced policies placing restrictions on food outlets in Canada. A variety of municipalities impose partial bans (i.e., in certain neighbourhoods) on drive-thru fast-food restaurants in:  Hamilton, Toronto, Halifax, Fredericton, Vancouver, Calgary, and London.4

Full bans on drive-thru fast-food restaurants are found in a number of BC municipalities (e.g., Ladysmith, Mission, Central Saanich, Nelson), as well as Rosemont La Petite Patrie in QC.

A couple of municipalities also use bylaws to restrict ice cream vendors from areas near schools, parks and/or beaches:

  • Surrey’s Business License Bylaw prohibits ice cream vendors from selling products in commercial areas, parks, beaches and school grounds – restricting their business to residential areas only.
  • Charlottetown’s Street Vendors Bylaw does not permit confectionery tricycle vendors licensed to sell ice cream on any street adjacent or bordering a public park, playground, or athletic field where refreshments are available or within 30 meters of any school.

Opportunities for action

Municipalities can strengthen their existing community planning policies (land use or zoning bylaws) or business licensing bylaws to regulate availability of unhealthy foods in the vicinity of schools (e.g., zoning bylaws can limit the presence of fast-food in the vicinity of schools).5,6  Creating policies and that restrict access to fast food by influencing where fast food restaurants are built and limiting unhealthy food sources (e.g., convenience stores) near schools help address unhealthy diets and obesity.7

Zoning can be used to limit the proliferation of food that can be harmful, such as fast foods. This can be accomplished in various ways, including: banning fast food outlets and/or drive-through service; regulating the placement of fast food restaurants in certain areas or districts; regulating the distances from fast food restaurants from other uses, such as schools, churches, and hospitals.7

* Levels of adoption:  LOW = very few jurisdictions have adopted evidence-informed policy action; MEDIUM = some, but not all jurisdictions have adopted evidence-informed policy action; HIGH = most jurisdictions have adopted evidence-informed policy action.

** Prevention Policies Directory captures information for 31 Canadian municipalities (18 largest municipalities in Canada, and at least 1-2 largest municipalities in all other provinces/territories).


1 Vanderlee L, Goorang S, Karbasy K, Schermel A, L’Abbe M. Creating healthier food environments in Canada: Current policies and priority actions – Summary report. Toronto; University of Toronto, 2017.

2 World Cancer Research Fund International. NOURISHING policy framework. Retrieved from:

3 World Cancer Research Fund International. (2009). Policy recommendations. Retrieved from:

4 Nykiforuk, C. I. J., Campbell, E. J., Macridis, S., McKennitt, D., Atkey, K. & Raine, K. (2018). Adoption and diffusion of zoning bylaws banning fast food drive-through services across Canadian municipalities. BMC Public Health, 18(137). doi: 10.1186/s12889-018-5061-1.

5 Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention (APCCP). (2018). Alberta’s Nutrition Report Card on Healthy Food Environments for Children and Youth. Retrieved from:

6 ChangeLab Solution.s (2013). Model healthy food zone ordinance. Retrieved from:

7 Government of Canada. (2017). The chief public health officer’s report on the state of public health in Canada 2017 – Designing healthy living. Retrieved from:

8 Canadian Institute of Planners. Healthy communities practice guide. Retrieved from:, pp 35-41.