A new Oxford University study found that packaged food and drinks made in India contain high levels of saturated fats, sugars and salts, and are the most unhealthy in the world. The George Institute for Global Health at the University of Oxford came to this conclusion after analysing more than 4,00,000 food and drink products from 12 countries around the world, using Australia’s Health Star Rating system to rank them. This system breaks down the nutrient concentration and measures the energy, salt, sugar, saturated fat as well as protein, calcium and fibre to give out a star rating that ranges from ½ (least healthy) to 5 (most healthy).
The study, published in medical journal Obesity Reviews, found that the UK came out on top with a rating of 2.83, followed by the US with 2.82 and Australia with 2.81. India ranked the lowest with a rating of 2.27, followed by China at 2.43 and Chile at 2.44.
“The results were concerning because packaged foods and drinks are driving a double burden of diet-related diseases in many low- and middle-income countries,” Elizabeth Dunford, lead author of the study said in a statement.” Globally we’re all eating more and more processed foods and that’s a concern because our supermarkets' shelves are full of products that are high in bad fats, sugar, and salt and are potentially making us sick." She stresses that while some countries were keeping their calories in check, it was the poorer nations that were compromising on quality, consequently leading to more health problems.
While China had the most harmful levels of saturated fat in their food, their drinks had an average Health Star Rating of 2.9 and emerged as the healthiest. Meanwhile, South Africa only scored 1.92 for its drinks but got a rating of 2.87 for its food.
Co-author Professor Bruce Neal, Acting Executive Director of The George Institute, said, “With packaged foods progressively dominating the world’s food supply, there is a 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. 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 also notes that many of the world’s biggest packaged food and drink makers have become members of the International Food and Beverage Alliance and pledged to reduce the levels of salt, sugar and harmful fats found in their products, and that this study could help push these companies to work on the healthiness of their products.
“The study is a wake-up call for countries like India where the packaged food industry is burgeoning and expanding its reach to small towns and villages. Policymakers and the food industry needs to work together to reformulate products to reduce the ever-increasing risk of obesity and its consequences," Vivekanand Jha, Executive Director of the George Institute for Global Health, India told Livemint. Considering we’re a country where 93 percent of the children eat packaged food and 68 percent consume packaged sugar-sweetened beverages more than once a week (according to a massive 2017 survey), our chips, cookies and cola addiction is severely disturbing.
Follow Shamani Joshi on Instagram.