The International Network for Food and Obesity / Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) Research, Monitoring and Action Support (INFORMAS) has developed the BIA-Obesity (Business Impact Assessment on Obesity and Population-level Nutrition) tool to provide a framework to benchmark food company policies and commitments related to obesity and population nutrition. The tool consists of a range of indicators across 6 action areas, with tailored measures for food and non-alcoholic beverage manufacturers, quick service restaurants and supermarkets.
Across all sectors, key action areas assessed by the BIA-Obesity tool include corporate population nutrition strategy, product formulation, product labeling, product and brand promotion, product accessibility and relationships with other organizations. For each domain, INFORMAS has developed graded assessment criteria to enable benchmarking at a sector, country and global level. These criteria take into account the nature of policies as well as the extent of public disclosure of these policies.
The BIA-Obesity tool was initially based on the Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI), an independent benchmarking tool developed to evaluate the commitments of international food and beverage manufacturers towards improving nutrition. The BIA-Obesity has been modified from the ATNI global index for the purposes of national-level analysis, and incorporates supermarkets and quick service restaurants in addition to food and non-alcoholic beverage manufacturers.
The process of implementing BIA-Obesity includes an assessment of publicly available commitments and transparency of commitments, supplemented with additional information after engagement with companies. The process of applying the BIA-Obesity is conducted in several steps:
Since 2017, the obesity prevention and nutrition related policies and commitments of food companies in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Thailand have been assessed using the BIA-Obesity tool and process. Within all countries, there was a wide variation in company scores, as companies varied substantially in the specificity, comprehensiveness and transparency of their policies and commitments. Some companies were performing well in some areas but most could be doing a lot more to create a healthy food environment.
Link to the Malaysian publication and report
A detailed evaluation of the impact of BIA-Obesity in Australia, found that a number of company representatives indicated that the Initiative had influenced their company’s nutrition policies, strategies, and disclosure practices, and had raised their company’s awareness of the importance of addressing nutrition issues. These benefits need to be assessed in the context of the broader political and economic environment.
The BIA-Obesity tool consists of a range of indicators across six action areas, with tailored measures for food and beverage manufacturers, chain restaurants and supermarkets. The implementation of the BIA-Obesity process results in the development of scorecards for each company to enable comparison at a sector level both nationally and internationally. In this way, BIA-Obesity can be used to clearly highlight areas in which national companies are demonstrating leadership in the prevention of chronic diseases, and indicate specific areas for improvement at a company, sector and industry level.
As an example of the way the scoring is adapted at the country level, the way the tool was applied in New Zealand is available here:
- BIA Obesity Tool Protocol and Scoring
- Food & Beverage Manufacturers
- Quick Service Restaurants
The way the tool was applied in Australia is available here.
As at 2021, we are in the process of developing a new tool to assess food company commitments related to environmental sustainability.
Obesity and diet-related chronic diseases are the major public health problems in New Zealand. Unhealthy food environments are the major drivers of obesity and related chronic diseases. Actions from the government, the food industry and society all contribute to the healthiness of the food environment. As one of the key actors, the food industry has an important role to play in creating healthier food environments.
BIA-Obesity assessed transparency, comprehensiveness and specificity of policies and commitments related to obesity prevention and population nutrition by the major New Zealand food companies but not the actual performance of companies in meeting those commitments and did not assess the overall healthiness of their product profiles. These will be the focus of future research.
The BIA-Obesity (Business Impact Assessment on obesity and population nutrition) tool assesses company policies and commitments across six key domains. The 25 most prominent food companies in New Zealand were selected for assessment across four sectors: food manufacturers, non-alcoholic beverage manufacturers, supermarkets and quick service restaurants. The assessment included commitments until the end of 2017.
Publicly available information on company policies and commitments was analysed for the companies. This included an analysis of New Zealand and international company websites, annual reports, media releases, relevant industry associations and government websites. The project team liaised with companies to supplement and validate the publicly available information. Companies were assessed and ranked with scores combined across domains for an overall score out of 100. Overall performance and examples of best practice and leadership were highlighted. Areas for improvement were identified and specific recommendations made.
New Zealand Findings
The New Zealand results are reported in: Committing to Health: Food Company Policies for Healthier Food Environments
New Zealand food companies demonstrated some commitment to addressing obesity and population nutrition issues, but much stronger action is needed across all six BIA-Obesity domains and all four industry sectors. The best performing domain was ‘corporate nutrition strategy’ while the worst performing domain was ‘product accessibility’. The overall scores ranged from 0-75% with a median overall score of 38%. About half of the companies selected fully engaged with the research process and provided feedback and comments during several steps in the process. View the individual scorecards below.
Scorecards for each food company
The following companies have been selected based on market share data and are included in the assessment for New Zealand. For companies that did not engage in the BIA-Obesity process, the scores and recommendations are based on an evaluation of publically available information on policies and commitments only.
Some NZ food companies are performing well and are meeting good practice benchmarks, including:
All sectors: Incorporating population nutrition and/or obesity prevention into the overarching corporate strategy to some extent
Food and non-alcoholic beverage manufacturers and supermarkets: Reformulating products to reduce levels of sodium. Having some existing targets to reduce sugar in specific food categories. Committing to implement the New Zealand Government endorsed Health Star Ratings on food products. Committing to comply with the Advertising Standards Authority Children and Young People’s Advertising Code
Quick Service Restaurants: Providing nutrition information about foods and meals online
Ranking of companies based on specificity, comprehensiveness and transparency of their commitments related to obesity prevention and population nutrition * Full engagement; § Unable to be contacted; & Willing to participate but survey not returned on time; # Declined participation For §, & and #: Assessment based on publicly available information only (1) Packaged food manufacturers, (2) Non-alcoholic beverage manufacturers, (3) Supermarkets, (4) Quick service restaurants
However, there is considerable room for improvement for most companies. The conversion of commitments into practice needs further evaluation. Stronger action is needed across all four sectors to improve food environments and population nutrition and:
Corporate population nutrition strategy
- Prioritise population nutrition as part of the overall corporate strategy, including relevant objectives, targets, appropriate resourcing and regular reporting against objectives and targets
- Link the Key Performance Indicators of senior managers to nutrition targets in the corporate strategy
- Commit to SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) targets on sodium, sugar, saturated fat and trans fat reduction across the product portfolio
- Use the Health Star Rating system to guide efforts on product development and reformulation
- Support the implementation of regulations by Government on added sugar labelling on food products
- Commit to labelling products with nutrition claims only when products are healthy (i.e. meet the FSANZ Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion (NPSC))
Product and brand promotion
- Develop a marketing policy that applies to children up to the age of 18 years
- Eliminate the use of promotion techniques (e.g., cartoon characters, interactive games) with strong appeal to children on ‘unhealthy’ food products
- Support evidence-informed government policies such as a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages
- Make a commitment to increase the proportion of healthy food products in the overall company portfolio
Relationships with other organisations
- Publish all national relationships and funding for external research on the Zealand website
- Disclose all political donations in real time, or commit to not making political donations
New Zealand Team
Boyd Swinburn, Professor of Population Nutrition and Global Health, The University of Auckland
Dr Stefanie Vandevijvere, Senior Research Fellow, The University of Auckland
Apurva Kasture, Honours student, The University of Auckland
Dr Sally Mackay, Research Fellow, The University of Auckland
Dr Gary Sacks, Senior Research Fellow, Deakin University Melbourne
If you have any questions or comments please feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
BIA-Obesity Australia assessed 34 of the largest Australian food companies on their policies and commitments related to obesity prevention and nutrition, across the three major food industry sectors: supermarkets, food and beverage manufacturers, and quick service restaurants. The reports Inside our Supermarkets, Inside our Food and Beverage Manufacturers and Inside our Quick Service Restaurants are now available.
While this study focused on policies and commitments, future phases of the initiative will investigate the performance of companies (e.g., extent and nature of food marketing to children, healthfulness of overall product portfolio) and compliance with commitments made.
BIA-Obesity Canada team
Dr Lana Vanderlee, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Waterloo (email@example.com)
Dr Mary L’Abbe, Professor, University of Toronto
Laura Vergeer, PhD candidate, University of Toronto
Dr Gary Sacks, Senior Research Fellow, Deakin University
Ella Robinson, Research Assistant, Deakin University
Assessment of the stated policies of prominent food companies related to obesity and non-communicable disease (NCD) prevention in Thailand. publication 2019
International collaboration for this project is led by Dr Gary Sacks within the Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE) at Deakin University, Melbourne.
Countries that are implementing BIA Obesity Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Thailand have all successfully implemented the BIA obesity tool. Implementation is underway in Malaysia and in several European countries (www.bia-obesity.org).
Australia – Gary Sacks firstname.lastname@example.org
Canada – Lana Vanderlee email@example.com
EU – Stefanie Vandevijvere Stefanie.Vandevijvere@sciensano.be
Malaysia – Tilakavati Karupaiah firstname.lastname@example.org
New Zealand – Sally Mackay email@example.com
Thailand – Nisachol Cetthakrikul firstname.lastname@example.org