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Improving diets in an era of food market transformation: Challenges & opportunities for engagement between public & private sectors

  |   SUN in Practice

Diets are changing rapidly around the world. Leaders in almost all low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) today face a complex policy challenge – how to resolve persisting undernutrition and vitamin and mineral deficiencies while simultaneously preventing the global escalation of overweight and obesity. Urgent action is essential because healthy diets are key to addressing the growing health crisis. In fact, poor quality diets now threaten the successful achievement of the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs).

Policymakers need to be realistic about their own limits in shaping consumer behaviour. Similarly, they need to be pragmatic in seeking to persuade industry partners to play a more active role in improving diets. The food industry already does much to meet the nutritional needs of a rapidly growing global population.

However, its activities are typically focused on delivering individual food products, rather than on enhancing diets and larger food systems per se. There is profit in responding to current consumer demand for convenient, tasty, ultra-processed food products which do not contribute to a high-quality diet. Therefore, a policy focus is needed to encourage and enable firms to shift the balance of their activities in favour of products as well as fresh produce which are more nutritious, affordable and accessible to all.


“Our latest policy brief, presents evidence and poses a series of questions for policymakers and the private sector to help them develop a common understanding of ways to improve the food environment, to enable better dietary choices”

Sir John Beddington, Co-Chair Global Panel and Former UK Chief Scientific Advisor


The key is to establish a common understanding of the critical role of diet quality in nutrition. Circumstances should then inform two broad classes of action: incentives – so that companies have confidence in taking decisions and risks associated with sourcing and supplying nutritious foods and products; and enabling measures – so that the business environment works to encourage rather than inhibit innovative approaches.

Global Panel – FAO Policy Brief

The policy brief, by the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), suggests ways in which governments can persuade food industry partners to provide consumers with better access to healthier diets.

This policy brief seeks to stimulate governments and other stakeholders to help build strategies to incentivise the private sector to influence food systems in ways that will improve the food environment, and enable better dietary choices. The Global Panel offers six priorities for action, and poses questions that can be used to explore ways to build much more ambitious and effective links between the public and the private sectors.



The brief notes how there are opportunities and benefits for both public and private interests to move forward in partnership. For this to take place, open dialogue is essential to building trust. It is therefore crucial that governments, donors, the private sector and international organizations see poor diets as a critically important distributional issue that deserves the same attention as other facets of distribution, such as income or wellbeing.

With the health burden associated with poor diets already affecting one in three of the global population and the prospect of this rising to one in two in the decades ahead, policymakers and the private sector cannot afford inaction, the brief concludes.

Related Documents

• Policy Brief – English
• Policiy Brief  Executive Summary – English
• “Harnessing Public-Private Partnerships to Improve Diets
” – An op-ed by Sir John Beddington, Co-Chair Global Panel.
 Shifting the balance: getting the private sector to favour nutritious, affordable and accessible diet – Press Release.

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