Among others, the WHO strategy makes a series of nine recommendations to the food industry on measures to improve diet and promote a healthy lifestyle.

The Report ‘The Food Industry, Diet, Physical Activity and Health: a Review of Reported Commitments and Practice of 25 of the world’s Largest Food Companies’ highlight clearly some of the concerns about self-regulation raised by NGOs and comes timely with the discussions taking place within the EU platform on Diet and physical activity.

Methodology

Based on an analysis of the companies’ annual reports, accounts,websites as well as companies self-reported activities, researchers found that the companies have done very little in respose to the WHO strategy, with regard to in three key sectors - processing, retailing and catering.

They reviewed activities such as R&D spending, marketing, advertising & sponsorship, whether health was part of corporate social responsibility, policy on diet & physical activity, the healthiness of products, obesity and children, labeling, stakeholder engagement and whether companies gave health help to their own employees.

The companies assessed by the study include the top 10 food manufacturers, top 10 food retailers and top 5 food-service companies.

Results

Findings suggest that the world’s food companies are not yet fully engaged with the seriousness and urgency of the demands to tackle diet-related ill health, despite having more than adequate ressources.

Retailers were ranked as the worst performing sector. Interestingly, sectors that have been under pressure and attack for selling fatty, salty sugary foods in fact reported most activity.

The authors therefore conclude that “the best way to get companies to take health seriously is to have critics outside giving them a hard time. The critics are unpaid watchdogs. Eventually the companies wake up. But if companies keep their heads below the parapet, no health innovation or consciousness seems to take root inside corporate culture. The danger is that health criticism is focused only on certain high profile companies, and not across entire sectors, which is what is needed.”

Key findings

According to the report, although the smallest company has a turnover five times that of the WHO’s entire annual budget, less than half of the 25 countries had policy statements on obesity, and less than half had had a policy commitment to produce a healthier range of goods.

- Only 10 out 25 companies reported that they were acting on salt

- Only five out of 25 reported action on sugar.

- Only four reported action on fat.

- Only two reported action on portion size

- Thirteen companies gave no information on their spending on marketing, advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

- Only 11 of the 25 companies make a reference to health in Corporate Social Responsibility / values statements.

- Only four out of 25 companies had any policies on advertising, all of them manufacturers.

- Only six companies had policies specifically on children (despite the existence of ready-made Children’s guidelines produced by US-based CARU).

- Only 10 out of 25 companies reported that they have staff health programmes.

Last modified on August 29 2007.