Improving diets in an era of food market transformation: Challenges and opportunities for engagement between the public and private sectors.
Diets are changing rapidly around the world. Leaders in almost all low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) today face a complex policy challenge - the so-called triple burden of malnutrition, where undernutrition, stunting and micronutrient deficiency coexist along with escalating overweight and obesity.
Rising incomes provide opportunities to consume a greater diversity of healthy foods, but they also increase access to more ultra-processed foods. Meanwhile, many diets continue to lack essential nutrients that contribute to undernutrition leading to stunting and wasting. Urgent action on diets is needed to address the burden of malnutrition that threatens achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Some governments are already stepping up their efforts to improve diets, but there remain few successful examples where governments have harnessed the market power of private sector actors to achieve positive gains in nutrition.
Policymakers need to be realistic about their own limits in shaping consumer behaviour. The Global Panel urges governments to focus on encouraging and enabling firms to shift the balance of their activities in favour of food products and fresh produce which are more nutritious, affordable and accessible to all.
The food industry has long been criticized for its part in making food environments unhealthier, but it has also has the potential to make them healthier. The key is for governments and the private sector to establish a common understanding of the critical role of diet quality in nutrition. Individual circumstances should then inform two broad classes of action:
- Incentives to promote confidence in companies to take the necessary decisions and risks in investing in more nutritious foods;
- Enabling measures so that the wider business environment works with, rather than inhibits change.
This policy brief seeks to stimulate governments and other stakeholders to help build strategies to incentivise the private sector to influence food systems in ways that will improve the food environment, and enable better dietary choices. The Global Panel offers six priorities for action, and poses questions that can be used to explore ways to build much more ambitious and effective links between the public and the private sectors.
“The private sector is in the spot light for its critical role in addressing malnutrition in all its forms.
This is a unique opportunity for governments to create the right conditions for change.”
Dr Mauricio Lopes, President, Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa)