Packaged food and drinks in Britain have been crowned the healthiest in the world, ranking ahead of the US and Australia, a new global survey has found.
The survey, undertaken by The George Institute for Global Health in Oxford, also revealed that packaged food products in India were the least healthy.
The Institute analysed more than 400,000 food and drink products from 12 countries and territories around the world. Results highlight the high levels of sugar, saturated fat, salt and calories/kJ in many of our favourite food items.
Countries were ranked using Australia’s Health Star Rating system – which measures the levels of the nutrients such as energy, salt, sugar, saturated fat as well as protein, calcium and fibre, and assigns a star rating from ½ (least healthy) to 5 (the healthiest).
It found that the UK had the highest average Health Star Rating of 2.83, followed by the US at 2.82 and Australia at 2.81. India got the lowest rating of just 2.27 followed by China at 2.43 with Chile coming third from bottom at 2.44.
Lead author Dr Elizabeth Dunford said 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.
“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 said.
“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.”
An epidemic of packaged foods
China’s drinks were some of the healthiest in the survey with an average Health Star Rating of 2.9 but packaged foods scored low at just 2.39.
Its packaged foods and beverages had the most harmful levels of saturated fat. They also scored worst for average sugar levels at 8.5 grams per 100 g (more than 2x the UK’s average) – with India in 2nd place at 7.3 grams per 100 g.
India’s packaged foods and drinks were most energy dense (kilojoule content 1515 kJ/100 g) and South African products were least energy dense at an average of just 1044kJ/100 g.
Co-author Professor Bruce Neal, Acting Executive Director of The George Institute, Australia said 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,” he said.
“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.
Results were published in Obesity Reviews.