INGE KAUER is executive director of the Access to Nutrition Foundation and a member of its board. She spoke at Spotlight Health on June 24th on a panel called “Banishing Hunger: Inventive Strategies to Feed the World.”
We caught up with Kauer to learn more about how the private sector can help to solve the global issue of malnutrition.
When it comes to access to healthy food, we are facing a global crisis. The recently released 2016 Global Nutrition Report warns that malnutrition is becoming the new normal and flags the world is not doing enough to end this international epidemic.
Malnutrition and diet are by far the biggest risk factors for the global burden of disease: every country is facing a serious public health challenge from malnutrition. One in three people worldwide is now undernourished, overweight, or obese. Over the next 10 years, this trend is only set to increase.
In terms of the global economy, the costs of the nutrition crisis are massive. The obesity epidemic alone is estimated to cost approximately $2 trillion annually, which is around 3 percent of global GDP. Malnutrition also heavily impacts family budgets. In the United States, when one person in a household is obese, the household faces additional annual health care costs equivalent to 8 percent of its annual income. Imagine the resources that could be freed up for other purposes if we could improve global nutrition.
The necessity of private sector involvement to end malnutrition is increasingly being recognized by the global development community, in light of the huge challenges of meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.The way people eat is fundamentally affected by the quantity and nutritional quality of processed food available and how it’s marketed, priced, and distributed. Companies must work alongside governments, international organizations, and civil society to address the spiraling double burden of obesity and undernutrition. Creation of innovative public-private partnerships is crucial in solving this mounting problem. Beyond the social responsibility, it’s also firmly in companies´ business interests. Especially in more mature markets like the US, consumers are turning away from processed food and demanding healthier options.
The Access to Nutrition Index rates the world´s largest food and beverage manufacturers on their commitments, performance, and disclosures to address malnutrition globally. The 2016 ATNI Global Index concluded that companies must step up their efforts to tackle malnutrition. The leading companies — Unilever, Nestlé, and Danone — have done more than the others to integrate nutrition into their business models, to produce healthier products with, for example, lower levels of sugar, salt and fats and higher levels of healthier ingredients, and to ensure affordable pricing and wider distribution of healthier products in emerging markets.
Most companies should strengthen their efforts to fight obesity by:
- Adopting stronger nutrition strategies and policies
- Using robust systems to measure the nutritional value of all of their products
- Tracking the proportion of revenues generated by healthier products
- Strengthening food labeling to help consumers identify healthier options
- Marketing more responsibly to children.
There is also much room for improvement to address undernutrition in lower-income countries, in spite of the challenges presented by these fragile markets. Only four of the companies in the Index were found to be producing specially fortified products targeting undernourished consumer groups in low-income countries such as women of childbearing age and young children.
We need to see accelerated action. The nutrition crisis demands an urgent step-change in response. The private sector should become a game–changer in improving consumers´ diets.