Good nutrition is critical not only to an individual’s health but also to the health of a nation. Improving nutrition contributes to productivity, economic development, and poverty reduction (pdf, 103Kb). It improves physical work capacity, cognitive development, school performance, and health by reducing disease and mortality.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that one in nine people in the world is undernourished. That is 815 million people.
At the same time, obesity has reached epidemic proportions, according to the World Health Organisation, with more than 1.9 billion overweight adults in the world and 650 million obese adults. At least 2.8 million people are dying each year as a result of being overweight.
The private sector is a key player in the production of food that is nutritious, affordable and sustainable. Companies support the need for improved nutrition. They are ready to listen, learn and share expertise in order to develop the appropriate collective actions.
Strong, comprehensive and science-based nutrition policies can support the fight against many diseases and promote good health. The general population can be offered better food choices through dietary guidelines by public health authorities, national nutrition policies and product benchmarks.
More specifically, the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation believe micronutrient fortification (pdf, 3Mb) should be included in national nutrition plans where there are deficiencies. Nestlé supports this approach, while acknowledging that fortification strategies should be government-led and include relevant indicators and ways to measure progress.
Micronutrient fortification such as iron, vitamin A, iodine, vitamin D and zinc are vital for health and wellness at all stages of life and is a particular concern for teenage girls and women of childbearing age because of the health impact it can have on their babies.
As a global company with operations in many countries where undernutrition is a problem, Nestlé wants to make a positive difference through the products we offer.
Supporting public health
While food can be improved by adding certain nutrients, there is also ongoing work to lower health-sensitive nutrients such as salt, sugar and fat from foods and beverages.
This is important especially for Trans Fatty Acids, which are linked to coronary heart disease. Both the European Commission and the World Health Organisation are currently considering how best to limit the intake of industrial Trans Fatty Acids after public consultations on the matter. Nestlé and the International Food and Beverage Alliance (pdf, 353Kb) support a legal limit (pdf, 1Mb) for industrial Trans Fatty Acids.
Reducing other health-sensitive nutrients such as salt, sugars or saturated fat is also necessary and should be science-based and take into account the technical and processing limitations.
For example, trans fats should not just be replaced with saturated fats, but rather with unsaturated fats such as high oleic oils, and sugar should not just be replaced with harmful lipids.
Strong recommendation from global bodies and clearly-defined national and regional policies are therefore beneficial to the industry as a whole, ensuring a level playing field which allows companies to compete using the nutritional qualities of their products in addition to price and taste.
The bigger picture
Nutrient profiles are another way of establishing fair competition. These help to ensure that companies are genuinely putting healthier products on the market.
Consumer taste, needs and expectations are also fundamental to the success of reformulated products. To this end, information and education campaigns are required to move consumers to choose healthier options.
The private sector can also innovate to make sure the healthier products are culturally acceptable and appealing, and that innovation stimulates business growth.
Finally, it is important to develop a holistic approach. Good nutrition can only be achieved through action in other areas such as sanitation, agriculture and family planning.
Working together – and using a mix of regulation, self-regulation and coordinated national measures – moves us one step closer to achieving the second of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, to eliminate hunger and improve nutrition, as well as the third goal, to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
These are goals that Nestlé wholeheartedly supports.