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Health is emerging as a key investment risk

The Covid-19 pandemic is underscoring the importance of a healthy society. Emerging data [1]shows that people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from the disease. Many of these underlying health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular disease, are associated with obesity.

The nation’s health

EQ has long been interested in improving the health of the nation [2]. In 2017, we sponsored– ‘Off The Scales: Tackling England’s childhood obesity crisis’ [3] a comprehensive report published by The Centre for Social Justice [4].  The findings of the report called for collective, whole-systems approach to address obesity across the country.

Indeed, we are shortly expecting a Government announcement that will follow some of the recommendations in the report.

At the same time, we believe the pandemic illustrates the vital role food retailers have in society and our day-to-day lives. They are keeping the nation fed, supporting vulnerable communities and providing work for an increasing number of us.

Food retailers also have a vital role to play in building a healthier population, that is more resilient to future health threats by ensuring that we all have access to healthy and nutritious food. As part of our positive impact approach [5], this is one area we have been focusing our engagement efforts on.

Increasing our engagement efforts

When addressing the sustainable food theme, responsible investor engagement often covers food supply chain sustainability and affordability. We are firm believers that nutritional value is an equally important factor when assessing the risks and opportunities but is often underrepresented in company engagements.

To address this point, we have joined the ShareAction Healthy Markets Investor Coalition [6]. Its aim is to encourage collective shareholder action with the goal of promoting a shift to healthier, accessible nutrition and better nutritional value disclosure within the food value chain.

Within the coalition, we are also looking directly at the role of food retailers in the UK in relation to the obesity crisis. This builds on the extensive findings and recommendations by an ATNI report [7] published in March. The report found significant gaps in their public commitments and actions to help people eat balanced diets and tackle childhood obesity.

In June we supported a ShareAction question at Tesco’s live AGM. [8] The question encouraged Tesco to disclose the proportion of its sales made up by healthy food and drink products, whilst setting ambitious targets to increase these over time. This follows similar commitments made by Sainsbury’s [9] and M&S [10] in the past year. In response, Dave Lewis, Tesco’s CEO acknowledged the need to improve its disclosure [11] on nutritional value despite challenges at such a large scale.

The investor coalition now aims to follow up this pledge on this to encourage some clearer commitments and real positive change.

Contact our responsible investing team

Have a question about the EQ Positive Impact Portfolios? Please email enquiries@eqinvestors.co.uk [12], we’re always happy to hear from you.