Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

How the Food and Beverage Industry Can Do More to Make Nutritious Products Available to the Poor

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March 11, 2013

Today, the first Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI) report is being released, evaluating the top 25 food and beverage manufacturers on their policies, practices, and performances related to undernutrition and obesity. The results are sobering – there is much more that major manufacturers can do to increase access to nutritious food globally. Lack of affordable, nutritious products that reach the poor, coupled with aggressive marketing of foods laden with fat, sugar and salt are helping to fuel a growing “double burden” of both undernutrition and obesity and associated diseases among the poor. We believe that companies have a critical role to play and hope that the Index will encourage them to do more.

Concerns about global food security are increasing, and it’s more important than ever that the world comes together to tackle undernutrition now. Millions of children in the poorest countries already don’t get enough of the right food to support healthy growth and development. They also suffer from illnesses such as diarrhea that sap the nutrients they do consume. Poor breastfeeding practices, further challenged by the marketing of breast milk substitutes, are widespread and dramatically increase the risk that a child will not survive beyond infancy and will not reach his cognitive and economic potential. In pregnant women, undernutrition increases the chances of dying due to complications and of delivering an underweight baby who is at risk for a lifetime of consequences affecting not only their health, educational achievement, and productivity, but that of future generations.

The good news is that the highest scoring companies have clear commitments, detailed global policies and measurable targets related to nutrition. They also have charged senior executives with achieving these targets and provided incentives for them to do so. However, company practices don’t always measure up. We hope that the ATNI will increase transparency and challenge food and beverage manufacturers to take concrete steps to improve.

What should companies do? The report recommends they should:

  • Acknowledge their role in addressing the problem;
  • Encourage accountability by being transparent;
  • Make more nutritious foods widely available, especially for low-income consumers;
  • Encourage the manufacturers of breast milk substitutes to ensure their practices are in full compliance with the code
  • Increase their efforts to address undernutrition and scale up those approaches that are the most successful.

At the foundation, we believe that the private sector can contribute to powerful solutions to global health challenges. In particular, there is significant untapped potential for food and beverage manufacturers—not only large, international corporations but local producers and entrepreneurs in Africa and South Asia--to address undernutrition through responsible practices and by increasing the quantity and quality of affordable nutritious foods available to people in developing countries.

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