India faces the challenge of the double burden of malnutrition. While it still has high levels of undernutrition among its population, levels of obesity and related diseases like diabetes are rising too, due to its increasing wealth. Many people, particularly children, are still undernourished: almost 39% of children under five are underweight and many suffer from deficiencies of micronutrients such as iron (more than 70% are deficient), vitamin A (65% are deficient) and zinc (45% are deficient). At the same time, the number of obese and overweight people is rising alarmingly quickly. India is ranked the third most obese country after the US and China, in terms of the absolute number of people, and more than 20% of children and adolescents are overweight. This number is predicted to increase and already is causing serious problems for Indian society. Almost 10% of adults in India suffer from some form of diabetes; other diseases linked to obesity and poor diets such as heart disease, stroke and certain cancers are also reaching pandemic levels.
Although processed foods make up a small proportion of most Indian people’s diets, as incomes increase that proportion increases too. F&B manufacturers in India have the potential to make a substantial contribution to preventing and addressing India’s nutrition challenges both through their commercial practices and their non-commercial activities, e.g. how they direct the mandatory Corporate Social Responsibility tax funds. Beyond this social responsibility, it is also in companies’ financial and business interests to do so. Indian consumers are increasingly demand healthier foods[i] and the Government is becoming increasingly active, by, for example, requiring some products deemed unhealthy to be taken off the shelves.
The 2016 India Access to Nutrition Index was ground-breaking. It was the first such Spotlight Index to be published; it assessed the policies, practices and disclosure of the largest multinational and Indian F&B manufacturers in the Indian market, as well as the nutritional quality of their product portfolios. Moreover, a critical element of the Index was an assessment of the compliance of manufacturers of infant formula and complementary foods (known as breast-milk substitutes) with local regulations and the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.
The Access to Nutrition Index rates food and beverage manufacturers´ nutrition-related policies, practices and disclosures worldwide on a recurring basis.
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