Article Text

Landscape analysis of environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing metrics for consumer nutrition and health in the food and beverage sector
  1. Meghan O'Hearn1,2,
  2. Julia Reedy2,
  3. Ella Robinson3,
  4. Christina Economos2,
  5. John B Wong4,5,
  6. Gary Sacks3 and
  7. Dariush Mozaffarian2,4
  1. 1Food Systems for the Future Institute, Chicago, Illinois, USA
  2. 2Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  3. 3Global Centre for Preventive Health and Nutrition, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia
  4. 4Tufts Medical Center, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  5. 5Tufts Medical Center, Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Meghan O'Hearn; meghan.o_hearn{at}


Introduction The private sector plays a critical role in influencing food choices and health outcomes of consumers. Among private sector actors, investors are a powerful yet underutilised stakeholder for driving scalable public health impact. There are systems to facilitate investors’ involvement, notably environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing, which is well placed to include an assessment of business risks to social well-being. However, nutrition efforts within the ESG agenda (ESG-Nutrition) are nascent. We aimed to critically assess the strength of existing ESG-Nutrition metrics to advance the science of measuring business impacts on consumer nutrition and health.

Methods ESG-Nutrition metrics were extracted from eight ESG frameworks and categorised across four domains: product portfolio healthfulness; product distribution and equity; product marketing and labelling; and nutrition-related governance. The strength of each metric was evaluated and scored 1–3 (best), independently by two researchers, based on six attributes: materiality, objectivity, alignment, activity, resolution and verifiability. The total score (range 6–18) and intercorrelation for each attribute was calculated.

Results Across 529 metrics, most related to product marketing and labelling (n=230, 43.5%), followed by product healthfulness (n=126, 23.8%), nutrition-related governance (n=108, 20.4%) and product distribution and equity (n=65, 12.3%). Across all metrics, average total score was 10.94 (1.58), with average attribute scoring highest for verifiability (mean: 2.36 (SD: 0.57)), objectivity (2.11 (0.61)) and materiality (2.01 (0.68)) and lowest for activity (1.83 (0.74)), alignment (1.37 (0.67)) and resolution (1.26 (0.65)). Most intercorrelations were null, suggesting attributes were measuring distinct characteristics of each metric. Significant heterogeneity across domains and frameworks was also observed.

Conclusions This research identifies a range of nutrition-related metrics used in ESG frameworks with respect to food companies, but with substantial heterogeneity in relevant nutrition domains covered and strength of each metric. Efforts are required to improve the quality of metrics across frameworks, establish standardised reporting and align these with investor priorities.

  • dietary patterns

Data availability statement

Data are available in a public, open access repository. Data (ie, metrics) in this analysis are all publicly available from the website of each respective ESG framework (ESG global reporting standards and food sector-specific accountability initiatives/indices). These have all been referenced and cited throughout the text.

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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Data availability statement

Data are available in a public, open access repository. Data (ie, metrics) in this analysis are all publicly available from the website of each respective ESG framework (ESG global reporting standards and food sector-specific accountability initiatives/indices). These have all been referenced and cited throughout the text.

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  • Contributors All authors had full access to all of the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Concept and design: MOH; acquisition of data: MOH; analysis and interpretation of data (metric strength assessment): MOH, JR and ER; statistical analysis: MOH; drafting of the manuscript: MOH; critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: all authors; obtained funding: DM; supervision: DM, CE and JBW; guarantor: DM.

  • Funding This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (2R01HL115189) and Vail Innovative Global Research (grant N316001 PR0677).

  • Competing interests MO reports research funding from Vail Innovative Global Research, as well as the Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health and Vail Innovative Global Research, outside of the submitted work. JR reports research funding from the Gates Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and Nestle, outside of the submitted work. ER is funded by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship. GS is a recipient of a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Emerging Leadership Fellowship (APP2008535) and is supported by a Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellowship (102035) from the National Heart Foundation of Australia. He is also a researcher within NHMRC Centres for Research Excellence entitled Reducing Salt Intake Using Food Policy Interventions (APP1117300), a Centre of Research Excellence in Food Retail Environments for Health (RE-FRESH) (APP1152968) and Healthy Food, Healthy Planet, Healthy People (APP2006620) (Australia). JBW reports research funding from the National Institutes of Health and membership in the US Preventive Services Task Force (unpaid) and National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Committee on Evaluating the Process to Develop the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 (unpaid), outside the submitted work. CE reports research funding from the US Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health, JPB Foundation, and Newman’s Own Foundation. She also reports her position as Vice Chair to National Academies of Science Roundtable on Obesity Solutions (unpaid) and her Advisory Board position at Care/of Scientific. None of the above relate to the manuscript. DM reports funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Vail Innovative Global Research and the Kaiser Permanente Fund at East Bay Community Foundation; personal fees from Acasti Pharma, Barilla, Danone and Motif Foodworks; scientific advisory board for Beren Therapeutics, Brightseed, Calibrate, Discern Dx, Elysium Health, Filtricine, HumanCo, January, Perfect Day, Tiny Organics and (ended) Day Two and Season Health; stock ownership in Calibrate and HumanCo and chapter royalties from UpToDate.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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