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Healthiness of packaged foods around the world

17 / 10 / 19

The Brits have beaten Australia and New Zealand at something and it’s not sport, but rather the healthiness of their packaged foods. The UK ranked highest in an International comparison of the healthiness of packaged foods determined by our very own Health Star Rating (HSR) system. Perhaps surprisingly, the USA ranked second, while Australia came third. China and India shared the dubious honour of having the unhealthiest packaged foods and drinks.

The food audit was carried out by an International team (including three Australian and two Kiwi researchers) led by The George Institute for Global Health. Product data was collected from 12 countries: Australia, Canada, Chile, China, India, Hong Kong, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa, the UK and USA.  As well as calculating the HSR, mean energy density, saturated fat, total sugars and sodium data were collected.

The mean HSR for all products was 2.73 (out of 5). The UK, USA and Australia and Canada ranked highest for overall nutrient profile, while India, Hong Kong, China and Chile ranked lowest. New Zealand was ranked equal 5th with South Africa. Countries with higher HSR also ranked better on nutrient levels.

Key results:

  • China’s drinks were some of the healthiest with an average of 2.9 but their food scored an average of 2.39.
  • New Zealand drinks scored in the top third with an average of 2.87 (2.71 for food).
  • South Africa had a low average drinks score of 1.92 but foods were 2.87.
  • Canada had the saltiest food (291mg/100g), followed by USA (279mg/100g).
  • The UK scored lowest for total sugars (3.8g/100g), followed by Canada with 4.6g/100g.
  • China’s foods had the most saturated fat and the highest total sugar levels.
  • India’s foods were the most energy dense at 1515kJ/100g while South Africa’s were the least energy dense at 1044kJ/100g.

The overall finding was there is considerable variation between countries and that middle-income countries had the least healthy foods. The authors commented that nutrient profiling is an important tool for middle income countries such as India and China to improve their food supply to reduce the risk of obesity and chronic lifestyle diseases in their populations. Professor Bruce Neal, Executive Director of the George Institute Australia said,

“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…”

You can find the published research here

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