Healthy, affordable food products still largely inaccessible, Dutch researchers say

Obese Man (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/ParentingPatch)Obese Man (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/ParentingPatch)

Large international beverage and food companies still do too little to make their products healthier and to make healthy products cheaper, and thereby more accessible, according to the 2018 Access to Nutrition Index - a long running international study conducted by the Netherlands based Access to Nutrition Foundation, NOS reports.

The study ranks 22 large companies in the beverage and food sector on what they are doing to reduce poor health due to poor dietary patterns. The researchers analyzed over 23 thousand products in nine countries. They looked at things like the salt, sugar and saturated fats content of these products. Less than a third of the analyzed products were qualified as 'healthy'. The researchers also found that the companies are still too often marketing unhealthy products for children.

There have been improvements since the previous Access to Nutrition Index in 2016, the foundation notes. The food industry is making products more nutritious, provide more information about ingredients and nutritional value in products, and supports educational programs. Nine companies now score five or higher on a scale of ten, compared to only two in 2016. And the average score rose from 2.5 to 3.3 - though the average score is still too low, according to the researchers. 

Swiss company Nestle leads the ranking with a score of 6.8 out of 10. Unliever and Danone are second and third with scores of 6.7 and 6.3 respectively. Dutch company Friesland Campina saw the most improvement over the past two years, improving its score from 2.8 in 2016 to 6.0 this year and climbing to 4th place in the ranking. The researchers attribute this improvement to Friesland Campina's new business strategy, which has improving worldwide nutrition at its core. The Friesland company also aims to control its prices in such a way that its products are accessible to everyone, but farmers still make a good income. 

According to the index, a third of the world's population is either overweight or malnourished. Almost 2 billion people in the world are overweight or obese. Over 800 thousand people are starving. And 2 billion people also lack essential vitamins and minerals in their diets. According to the World Food Organization, the costs associated with poor nutrition and malnutrition amount to 3,000 billion euros per year.

The Access to Nutrition Foundation is financed by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.