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Obesity is rising in both developed and developing countries: ATNF monitors and suggests how F&B companies should contribute to fighting this global nutrition crisis

11 October 2017

World Obesity Day – 11 October 2017 - the Access to Nutrition Foundation      

While many see obesity as a Western lifestyle issue, rising obesity figures in both developed and developing countries indicate that we are dealing with a global epidemic.

Figure 1: Adult obesity is rising everywhere at an accelerating pace,
By FAO – The state of food security and nutrition

Almost two billion people are overweight or obese. It may be a surprise to many that 25% of the children under 5 who are overweight live in sub-Saharan Africa. Economic progress and urbanization in developing regions like sub-Saharan Africa are leading to the consumption of more processed food which translates into higher intakes of salt, fat and sugar. Increasingly, the same families suffer the double burden of malnutrition, where young children are undernourished while older members are overweight and even obese.

Preventing people becoming overweight and obese can unlock significant socio-economic gains, including better educational and employment outcomes, and better long-term health outcomes, which all contribute to higher economic output. Prevention is therefore a particularly important strategy for emerging economies.

The F&B industry is central to the nutrition crisis, whether we see it as the problem, the solution or – most likely – a little of both. 

F&B (Food and Beverage) manufacturers can and should play a role in fighting obesity and overweight all over the world. With the increase in proportional consumption of packaged foods, F&B manufacturers play a significant role in shaping consumers’ choices and behavior relating to food. For instance, in the first India Access to Nutrition Index published by ATNF in 2016, only 16% of the food and 12% of the beverages produced by the largest top ten F&B manufacturers were found to be healthy[1]. This illustrates the need for Indian companies to act now to improve the nutritional quality of their products to help to combat diabetes and overweight, particularly among children, in India.

Responsible businesses in this sector should put in place clear action plans to reverse the unhealthy dietary trends that underlie growing levels of overweight and obesity. Doing so is in their financial and social interest. Having become more aware of the need to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly, consumers worldwide are increasingly demanding healthier packaged foods. Moreover, by investing in healthy nutrition, F&B manufacturers and investors in these companies can demonstrate that they are actively contributing to achieving 12 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations that are linked, in one way or another, to diets and nutrition.

The Access to Nutrition Foundation sets out and monitors how companies can contribute to fighting obesity and overweight around the world

ATNF monitors the contribution that the private sector is making to tackling obesity and overweight (and also undernutrition); and thus how they contribute to many SDGs. ATNF does this by publishing regular Indexes that rank the world’s biggest F&B manufacturers’ contribution to making healthy food affordable and accessible to all consumers worldwide. The Indexes provide companies with a way to benchmark their performance against their peers and stimulate ‘healthy competition’.

Figure 2: ATNF's Theory of Change

As well as assessing companies’ nutrition policies, practices and disclosure, ATNF is rapidly developing approaches to assess the healthiness of companies’ product portfolios and to track any progress companies are making in transforming their portfolios - and their businesses - over time.

Amplifying impact through the Global Index and first US Index 2018

In 2018, ATNF will launch two new Access to Nutrition Indexes. In March 2018, the third Global Index will rank the 22 largest F&B manufacturers globally on their commitments to improving nutrition and their progress since the second Index in 2016. It will be interesting to see how companies are implementing their nutrition commitments - whether they can demonstrate real progress in reducing salt, fats and sugars, making healthy food affordable and accessible to all, and shifting their marketing emphasis towards healthy foods and away from less healthy options. And whether they are taking action everywhere, in all of their markets, or focusing only on those where they are headquartered or face the most scrutiny.

Later in the year, ATNF will also publish the first US Spotlight Index. This Index will focus on the contributions of the ten largest F&B manufacturers in the US to fighting its key nutrition challenges – overweight and obesity, and food insecurity. Several US-specific nutrition topics will be incorporated in the assessment, including what companies do to address food insecurity among priority populations in the US and whether companies commit to donating healthy foods to public health and nutrition programs.

Both the Global Index 2018 and the US Index will contain an overview of the healthiness of companies’ product portfolio’s.

If you would like to know more about ATNF and the Index methodologies, please click here.


[1] These figures are based on the research that was done by The George Institute for Global Health into the comparative nutritional profile of 943 food and beverage products marketed by 12 large companies in India. The research is published on the website of ATNF

Improving nutrition for all

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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