Shifting the balance: getting the private sector to favour nutritious, affordable and accessible diets

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18 April 2017, Rome – With poor diets posing a greater global health risk than air pollution, alcohol, drug and tobacco use combined, the private sector needs to play a stronger role in encouraging people to eat more nutritious food, according to a new brief launched today.

The policy brief, by the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), suggests ways in which governments can persuade food industry partners to provide consumers with better access to healthier diets.

Some 815 million people in the world are still chronically undernourished and other forms of malnutrition are increasing, latest estimates show. With dietary patterns shifting – away from traditional foods towards fats, sugars and ultra-processed foods – more people, particularly in low to middle income countries, suffer from mineral and vitamin deficiencies, overweight and obesity.

The brief: Improving diets in an era of food market transformation: Challenges and opportunities for engagement between the public and private sectors, notes that interventions by the public sector alone will not be enough to address these issues. It calls for action: creating enabling measures, that stimulate firms to “shift the balance of their activities” in favour of fresh produce and other products which are more nutritious, affordable and accessible to all.

Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition co-Chair, Sir John Beddington said that: “While the goal of economic development can lead to healthier and more varied diets, it also increases the consumption of unhealthy ultra-processed foods, even more.” He emphasised that “producing healthier food doesn’t mean less profit. With the right mix of regulations and incentives the private sector can profit from healthier diets.”

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said: “Achieving Zero Malnutrition is a public responsibility, for which concrete actions should be taken by every individual throughout food systems.” He added that “governments must do better in defining clear standards and incentives for businesses in order to achieve nutrition goals. The promotion of healthy diets is to everybody’s gain.”

A partnership approach

The brief notes how there are opportunities and benefits for both public and private interests to move forward in partnership. For this to take place, open dialogue is essential to building trust.

It is therefore crucial that governments, donors, the private sector and international organizations see poor diets as a critically important distributional issue that deserves the same attention as other facets of distribution, such as income or wellbeing.

With the health burden associated with poor diets already affecting one in three of the global population and the prospect of this rising to one in two in the decades ahead, policymakers and the private sector cannot afford inaction, the brief concludes.