Improving Child Health and Nutrition Through Partnerships and Innovations in Food Systems

The "double burden of malnutrition" has become an emerging threat to health in ASEAN, especially with obesity no longer described as the disease of affluence but rather as one of the biggest public health challenges; with its prevalence expanding to developing countries, across all income levels.

A report jointly published by the UNICEF, WHO and ASEAN found that several countries in the region, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand are facing simultaneous crises of over and undernutrition among children. In countries like Indonesia, the proportions of over and undernourished children are the same, with 12 per cent of them suffering from muscle wasting and being overweight. Similarly in Thailand, the rates of child wasting and overweight children has reached 7 per cent and 11 per cent, respectively.

While the ASEAN region has seen significant economic growth over the years, stunting and wasting remain issues in most countries in this region as a result of the lack of nutritious foods, poor infant feeding practices, inadequate clean water and sanitation as well as poverty. Stunting in early childhood, which is attributed to poor nutrition, repeated infections and inadequate psychosocial stimulation, can result in obesity in adulthood. Similarly, urbanisation, sedantary lifestyles and the rising incomes which enable the increased access to energy-dense food and beverages in the region has contributed to the surge in obesity rates.

While ASEAN had a low obesity incidence in the 1980s, in comparison to other regions; the obesity rates have risen to an average of 6.2% among adults by 2013. Although obesity incidence in this region is still lower than the global average (13%), its incidence is rising rapidly, with Malaysia having the highest obesity prevalence of 13.3% amongst other nations in ASEAN.

In parallel with the increase in adult obesity, the prevalence among children in Asia has been increasing, with 48% (~20.5 million) of them under five years and more overweight children seen in low-middle income countries than high income countries in Asia. The implication of such a trend can be severe as childhood obesity is a powerful indicator for obesity in adulthood, associated with many NCDs; including Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

While a growing number of public health activities are being implemented, it is important for the industry to strengthen its role in providing solutions to combat obesity. As such, a number of global food and beverage companies have been actively involved in product innovation and renovation efforts to develop food products that are lower in obesogenic ingredients, namely low sugar and fat variants.

To discuss how the the industry’s role can be strengthened by working in partnership with multiple stakeholders and a range of other issues, Food Industry Asia (FIA) has partnered with the EAT Foundation to lead a discussion at the inaugural EAT Asia-Pacific Food Forum taking place on 30 and 31 October in Jakarta Indonesia.

While the competence forum is a closed-door event, you can tune in to the CHEW panel on the EAT website (www.eatforum.org) at 5:11 p.m Singapore time on 31st October. The CHEW panel is the last of its kind at this year’s EAT forum in Asia, but we encourage you to tune in earlier to catch the other highly engaging discussions.


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