Food firms slow in addressing nutrition crisis: study
New Delhi: India’s largest food and drink companies are far from the fight against obesity and malnutrition, a new report said.
The India Access to Nutrition Spotlight Index 2016, a study by Netherlands-based Access to Nutrition Foundation (ATNF) released on Wednesday, noted that while some of the largest food and beverages companies in India have made strategic commitments to grow businesses with focus on health and nutrition, the industry as a whole is moving very slow in addressing nutrition challenges in India, which is “home to the world’s largest number of stunted children”.
The study, which scores leading multinational firms on corporate strategy, availability of appropriate, affordable and accessible products, and positive influence on consumer choice and behaviour, studied top 10 food and beverages companies in India, including the multinationals.
Nestle India Ltd topped the ranking with a score of 7.1 out of 10 in overall terms, followed by Hindustan Unilever (6.7). ATNF studied 7 companies for the listing.
In terms of product profile, Mother Dairy topped the list with a score of 5.6 out of 10, followed by Hindustan Unilever (4.6) and Amul (4.4).
According to the study, only around 12% of beverages and 16% of food items sold by companies that ATNF studies are of high nutritional value. Domestic companies need to adopt and disclose their nutrition strategies and policies, while multinationals need to improve the nutritional quality of their portfolios, the ATNF study added.
“India faces the serious and escalating double burden of malnutrition, with a large undernourished population as well as growing numbers of overweight and obese people who are developing chronic diseases. Food and beverages manufacturers in India have the potential and the responsibility to be part of the solution to this double burden of malnutrition,” said Inge Kauer, executive director, ATNF.
According to the National Family Health Survey (2005-06) conducted by ministry of health & family welfare, government of India, 42.5% children under 5 years of age are underweight and 48% are stunted.
The ATNF report suggested the government should enable and encourage food and beverages companies to introduce fortified packaged products to address “specific widespread micronutrient deficiencies”, and should use more fortified staple ingredients compulsory in government programmes, such as mid-day meal schemes in schools.
The country’s food regulator Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has already proposed making fortified food mandatory for public food programmes, including public distribution scheme (PDS), mid-day meals and other schemes such as integrated child development services (ICDS) scheme and scheme for adolescent girls.
“We are in discussions with various ministries and industry and working on setting up standards and how to make large-scale food fortification a reality,” said Pawan Kumar Agarwal, chief executive officer, FSSAI, who officially released the ATNF report on Wednesday.