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Launch of the 2018 Global Access to Nutrition Index

11 June 2018

The Access to Nutrition Foundation (ATNF) has published its third Global Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI), which measures the contribution that the private sector makes to addressing global nutrition challenges, such as undernutrition and obesity in key populations. Such action supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goal 2 - Zero Hunger.

The Index provides a ranking of 22 of the largest global food and beverage companies based on analysis of their policies, practices and disclosures related to nutrition and undernutrition, governance, products, accessibility, marketing, lifestyles, labelling, and engagement. It also includes a separate ranking of the six leading manufacturers of breast-milk substitutes (BMS), which evaluates their marketing practices for infant nutrition products, as well as a new Product Profile, which assesses the 'healthiness' of companies’ product ranges in nine markets.

The latest Index offers many positive findings. It reports that companies have expanded their efforts to encourage better diets through:

  • new and updated nutrition strategies and policies;
  • stronger commitments on affordability and accessibility;
  • improved performance on nutrition labelling; and
  • increased disclosure of information across categories.

However, the results of the BMS Ranking are far less encouraging. Research undertaken on behalf of the ATNF demonstrates that all six companies frequently fail to uphold the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. In addition, the Product Profile analysis shows that less than one third of the 23,000+ products assessed, are considered 'healthy' (scoring 3.5 or higher under the Health Star Rating nutrient profiling system) due to high levels of salt, sugar or fats. Furthermore, only 14% of these products meet the WHO Europe Nutrient Profile Model guidelines on restricting the marketing of foods to children.

Key Findings within the Global Access to Nutrition Index

The overall company rankings highlight progress in a number of areas including the following:

  • Seven companies have adopted stronger nutrition strategies and management systems.
  • Over half of the companies have now made commitments to align their product research and development to public health frameworks such as national dietary guidelines.
  • More companies (11 compared to eight in 2016) have now pledged to address undernutrition, through their core businesses as well as other initiatives.
  • Ten companies have committed to improving the affordability and accessibility of products formulated to address undernutrition in underserved populations.

However, the Index also notes that companies need to do much more to establish transparent nutrition goals, improve the healthiness of their products, and develop commercial strategies to target undernutrition. A full set of recommendations is available in the report.

Key Findings of the BMS Ranking

The irresponsible marketing of breast-milk substitutes can harm efforts to promote and encourage breastfeeding, which is vital in the prevention of malnutrition and mortality in vulnerable infants in low and middle-income countries. The BMS Ranking has assessed the marketing practices of six manufacturers of infant nutrition products (Danone, Nestlé, Abbott, FrieslandCampina, RB/Mead Johnson and Kraft Heinz) and found that while some improvements are being made, in terms of stronger policy commitments to adhere to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, progress is slow. Research undertaken for the BMS Index indicates that cases of non-compliance with the Code are widespread. Studies carried out over a short study period in 2017, recorded 2,807 cases in Thailand, and 130 cases in Nigeria, of non-compliant marketing, mostly in relation to point-of-sale promotions on the websites of major online retailers.

These findings reinforce the concerns regarding the marketing of infant nutrition products that have long been recognised by organisations such as the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, and the campaign groups that form the International Baby Food Action Network. A recent report by Save the Children has also highlighted the prevalence of Code violations by BMS producers in other countries, and the damaging impacts that the inappropriate marketing of infant formula can have on the incidence of breastfeeding. Evidently, there remain significant challenges which the industry is not currently able to fully address.

In Conclusion

The results of the 2018 Global Access to Nutrition Index generate a mixed picture. Progress is clearly being made but certain companies identified as sector leaders in the overall Index ranking such as Nestlé, Danone and FrieslandCampina, which demonstrate above average performance in key areas of Nutrition and Undernutrition, also present ongoing ethical concerns while they continue to perform poorly with regard to the marketing of breast-milk substitutes. Such failings inevitably undermine corporate commitments to address the risks of malnutrition in vulnerable infants.

Benchmarking projects such as the Global Access to Nutrition Index play an important role as drivers of change within an industry sector by measuring corporate performance, outlining best practice and highlighting opportunities for improvement. They also enable stakeholders, including investors, to make informed decisions about the companies they choose to do business with. ATNF encourages all stakeholders to actively use the 2018 Index results and provide feedback if possible. Further, it hopes that investors will use the findings of the Index to engage with companies to push for better policies, practices and disclosure in future.

Juliana Burden, Ethical Research Co-ordinator

June 2018

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