UK has healthiest packaged food, says survey

Wednesday, 21 August, 2019

UK has healthiest packaged food, says survey

A survey of food and drink products from around the world has found that the UK has the healthiest packaged consumables of the 12 countries and territories surveyed. The USA came in second place, with Australia achieving third position. The results are published in Obesity Reviews.

The George Institute for Global Health analysed more than 400,000 food and drink products from around the world. Countries were ranked using Australia’s Health Star Rating system, which measures levels of nutrients such as energy, salt, sugar, saturated fat, protein, calcium and fibre, assigning a star rating from ½ (least healthy) to 5 (most healthy).

The UK achieved the highest average Health Star Rating of 2.83, followed by the US at 2.82 and Australia at 2.81. India received the lowest rating of just 2.27, followed by China at 2.43.

Lead author Dr Elizabeth Dunford said the results were concerning. “Globally we’re all eating more and more processed foods and that’s a concern because our supermarket shelves are full of products that are high in bad fats, sugar and salt, and are potentially making us sick.

“Our results show that some countries are doing a much better job than others. Unfortunately, it’s the poorer nations that are least able to address the adverse health consequences that have the unhealthiest foods,” Dr Dunford said.

Key findings

  • China’s drinks were some of the healthiest in the survey with an average Health Star Rating of 2.9, but packaged foods scored at 2.39.
  • South Africa received a low rating for drinks (1.92 Health Star Rating) while its foods came in at 2.87.
  • Canada topped the list for unhealthy salt levels in foods and drinks, with an average sodium level of 291 mg/100 g. The US followed, with an average sodium level of 279 mg/100 g.
  • The UK scored best for sugar at just 3.8 grams per 100 g, with Canada second best at 4.6 grams per 100 g.
  • China’s packaged foods and beverages had the most harmful levels of saturated fat. They also scored worst for average sugar levels at 8.5 g per 100 g (more than 2x the UK’s average). India had 7.3 g of sugar per 100 g.
  • India’s packaged foods and drinks were the most energy dense (kilojoule content 1515 kJ/100 g) and South African products were the least energy dense at an average of 1044 kJ/100 g.

Co-author Professor Bruce Neal, Acting Executive Director of The George Institute, said that with packaged foods progressively dominating the world’s food supply, there was real cause for concern.

“Billions of people are now exposed to very unhealthy foods on a daily basis. The obesity crisis is just the first ripple of a tsunami of dietary ill health that is coming for us,” Prof. Neal warned.

“We have to find a way that the food industry can profit from selling rational quantities of quality food, rather than deluging us with unhealthy junk. There are few greater priorities for human health.”

The report notes that many of the world’s major food and drink manufacturers have signed up to the International Food and Beverage Alliance and made pledges to reduce levels of salt, sugar and harmful fat, and that these findings could provide an impetus for companies to improve the healthiness of their product ranges.

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