Inge Kauer, Executive Director, Access to Nutrition Initiative speaks to Prathiba Raju on the importance of nutritional standards and food safety and why it should be made a priority in education
Why education on nutrition is important for Indian consumers?
Making healthy food available and affordable should be a priority for India in the coming years. The food and beverage sector in India is rapidly growing, the Indian food retail market is expected to reach $894.98 billion by 2020. With sales of processed foods accelerating it is clear that food and beverage companies have a crucial role to play in ensuring that everyone has a choice of affordable and nutritious products. The 2018 global nutrition report demonstrated that 21 per cent of women and 19 per cent of men in India are now overweight or obese, while also reporting that India is home to the largest number of stunted (46.6 million) and wasted (25.5 million) children in the world. Anaemia is also an issue affecting people in both urban and rural centres, around 70 per cent of adolescent girls in India are anaemic. Companies have a responsibility to enable consumers to make informed choices about what they are purchasing and eating, this can be done through improved labelling, marketing, fortification and reformulation practices.
How can we combat the rising nutrition-related issues, where do we stand globally?
Every country in the world is affected by nutrition and 88 per cent of all countries have overlapping burdens. This year, it was reported that:
- 21 per cent of children under five worldwide are affected by stunting
- 5. 9 per cent of children under five globally are overweight
- And 39 per cent of adults worldwide are overweight
- There is much to be done to tackle the nutrition challenges the world currently faces.
Mounting demand for healthier products combined with rising incomes across the globe presents the food and beverage industry with a tremendous opportunity to prompt positive change. We believe that the rising nutrition-related issues can be tackled by tapping into the competitive nature of the private sector and sparking a race to the top in nutrition among global corporations. We develop tools and initiatives that track and drive the contribution made by food and beverage manufacturers and encourage them to do more to help consumers achieve good health through improved diets and nutrition.
What are the key aspects of the 2nd Access to Nutrition Index?
The purpose of the India Spotlight Index 2019 is to encourage companies to increase Indian consumers’ access to healthy and affordable nutritious products as well as responsibly exercise their influence on consumers’ choice and behaviour. The Index is a relative ranking allowing stakeholders to compare performance between different companies and the development of individual corporate performance over time. It is a tool that can be used by major food and non-alcoholic beverage manufacturers to benchmark their nutrition practices and serves as an impartial source of information for a wide range of stakeholders (investors, academics, government and civil society organisations). It includes an independent assessment of the healthiness of a company’s product portfolio using the Health Star Rating methodology. The result of this product profile score are having a relative high weight in the calculation of the overall score for each company.
How is it different from the 2016 Index and when will it be launched?
The second iteration of the India Spotlight Index will be released this December. There are a number of key differences between this last India Index compared to this year’s edition. Up until this year, an objective assessment of the nutritional quality of companies’ product portfolios was presented in a separate Product Profile section. As of 2019 it is performed as part of the product category assessment in the corporate profile that captures companies’ efforts towards formulating and reformulating their products. This part of the assessment analyses the nutritional quality of the products they sell, which is determined by the levels of fat, salt, sugar, fruit, vegetables and other components. Our Indexes usually include an assessment of the marketing practices of major baby-food companies, which is presented in a breast-milk substitute marketing sub-ranking. This element is however not included in the India Spotlight Index 2019. Additionally, based on stakeholder feedback, the upcoming India Spotlight Index 2019 will assess a total of 16 companies, which is an increased compared to the last India Spotlight Index, which assessed nine companies.
How is FSSAI helping in this initiative ?
FSSAI was involved in the launch of the 2016 Index. We are sharing our methodology and FSSAI is one the reviewers. FSSAI programmers supporting the Governments Eat Right India movement are a crucial factor to promote industries contributions to tackle malnutrition and promote healthy diets.
Which age group is the most affected and what are the health hazards of the products manufactured by the FnB industry? Which are the products that should be avoided and why?
We use international and national nutrition standards to determine what is healthy. Food safety is an important element. Foods with high levels of trans fat are to be avoided. For people (at risk of/) with overweight, products with high levels of added sugars and high energy content can be harmful. Children and teenagers are particularly vulnerable to inappropriate marketing practices from food and beverage manufacturers which can lead to serious nutrition problems. Our upcoming Index will again assess whether companies have policies on marketing to children and/ or support the India International Food and Beverage pledge. We will also examine the type of products companies advertise to children and whether or not age restrictions in advertising applies. A new area of assessment has been added in this iteration which focusses on digital marketing.
Does food fortification help, to what extent? Do companies re-formulate their products?
We promote the universal fortification of products, rather than a select number of fortified special products. Regarding reformulation, we are currently analysing the portfolios of companies active in India and will publish results in December, but last year’s Global Index found that some companies have made positive efforts to lower sugar and salt content and we hope that this can be replicated by companies in India.