UK’s packaged food is healthiest in the world

The UK has the healthiest selection of packaged foods and drinks available at its supermarkets, according to research. 

The George Institute for Global Health analysed over 400,000 food and drink products from 12 countries and territories using Australia’s Health Star Rating system.

Levels of energy, salt, sugar, saturated fat were measured alongside protein, calcium and fibre and assigned a star rating from half, the least healthy to five, the most healthy.

On average, UK had the highest Health Star Rating of 2.83, followed by the US at 2.82 and Australia at 2.81. India received the lowest rating of just 2.27, followed by Hong Kong at 2.37 and China at 2.43. 

The UK had the lowest levels of sugar in its packaged foods at 3.8g per 100g, less than half of the level of sugar found in Chinese foods (8.3g per 100g).

Meanwhile Canada topped the list for unhealthy salt levels in foods and drinks with an average of 291mg per 100g of sodium, with the US in second place at 279mg per 100g.

Lead author Elizabeth Dunford said the results showed some countries are doing a “much better job” of producing packaged foods which are lower in fat, sugar and salt. 

“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. 

“Unfortunately it’s the poorer nations that are least able to address the adverse health consequences that have the unhealthiest foods.”

Co-author Bruce Neal, acting executive director of The George Institute’s Australia centre, added: “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.’’

Earlier this month, campaign groups Action on Sugar and Action on Salt called on the UK government to introduce an ‘excess calorie levy’ to encourage companies to reduce fat, as well as sugar, in food products.

Meanwhile the UK government has urged consumers, farmers and food producers to give evidence as part of a review to inform the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) National Food Strategy.

The review will set out recommendations for a “radical shake-up” of the UK’s food industry to ensure it is fit for the future, supports growth and is resilient to the challenges posed by climate change, said DEFRA.

It will examine which parts of the industry are already working well, as well as the role of new technology in the food supply chain such as vertical farming, robotics and carbon neutral manufacturing. 

Countries and territories with the healthiest packaged food and drinks

1. UK 2.83

2. US 2.82

3. Australia 2.81

4. Canada 2.74

5. New Zealand 2.73

5. South Africa 2.73

6. Slovenia 2.62

7. Mexico 2.59

8. Chile 2.44

9. China 2.43

10. Hong Kong 2.37

11. India 2.27

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