Obesity and Malnutrition: Addressing Asia’s Double Burden

A more integrated, planned, multi-stakeholder approach is needed to develop innovative and scalable solutions to meet the dual challenge of obesity and malnutrition is Asia, according to a panel at the recently concluded Responsible Business Forum On Food & Agriculture 2017 in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Speakers at the panel discussion, convened by the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN), stated that the double burden of malnutrition – overnutrition that leads to obesity, and undernutrition – has become an emerging threat to health and healthcare systems in the region. The panel delivered a call to action based on Goal 2 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – to improve nutrition, among other efforts to end hunger, as well as Goal 17 – concerning the value of partnerships in tackling the problem of malnutrition

Presenting recent data, Mr Steven Bartholomeusz, Head of Advocacy and Communications at Food Industry Asia (FIA), said that there has been a sharp growth in obesity rates in Asia over the past four years. Citing research from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Mr Bartholomeusz pointed to figures that showed that the rates of obesity and overweight in Malaysia were close to 50 per cent, and that in Singapore and Thailand rates bordered on 30 per cent; he added that obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) were some of the biggest threats to public healthcare in Asia.

“Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, more than 800 million people are undernourished, and 90 per cent of these people live in developing countries. Asia is home to nearly two-thirds of the world’s malnourished,” he added.

Panel moderator Mr Bruno Kistner, head of the ARoFIIN Secretariat, said that addressing these issues requires a multi-stakeholder, multi-dimensional approach that involves the whole of society.

“We need immediate action, which needs to be driven not only by governments and regulators, but also by innovations in the food industry that are driven by the private sector, as well as scientists and academics, operating in the region,” said Mr Kistner, presenting ARoFIIN as one example of a public-private sector focused on producing innovative, scalable solutions to the double-burden problem.

Speaking at the event, Mr Kistner shared ARoFIIN’s vision of “addressing Asia’s public health and nutrition challenges through partnerships and innovation.”

“ARoFIIN presents us with a tremendous opportunity to bring a diverse range of multi-disciplinary expertise to the table. Our members are key decision-makers in their respective fields from industry, academia, NGOs and the public sector, all coming together to work toward the single goal of tackling obesity and chronic diseases through food innovation,” he said.


Mr Bruno Kistner, head of the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN) Secretariat, speaks on the double burden of malnutrition during a panel discussion at the Responsible Business Forum On Food & Agriculture 2017 in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Photo credit: Responsible Business

Mr Kistner highlighted the four taskforces set up by ARoFIIN, and encouraged members of the audience to get involved in areas where they saw the best fit.

ARoFIIN’s Taskforce 1 focuses on establishing a clear governance structure for ARoFIIN and facilitating communications and debate. Taskforce 2 is focused on consumers – its members will establish a research consortium to facilitate research and development in food innovation related to diets and consumer preferences in Asia. Taskforce 3 looks at processes and enablers that will cultivate a positive regulatory climate for innovation. Finally, Taskforce 4 will look at the double burden of undernutrition and obesity in Asia, and assess how food supply-distribution mechanisms can be optimised through joined-up dialogue in intergovernmental fora.

Mr Hendro Poedjono, Director of Corporate Affairs for FrieslandCampina in Asia, then presented a case study of a programme initiated by his company, which is delivering outcomes in several ASEAN countries. Mr Poedjono highlighted the “Drink, Move, Be Strong” campaign that is carried out in partnership with the Junior National Basketball Association (NBA) to encourage children to lead healthier and more active lifestyles, initiatives such as science-based product reformulation, and findings from the South East Asian Nutrition Survey (SEANUTS), which have resulted in multi-stakeholder action.

“The challenge now is how the multi-stakeholder action plans are executed”, added Mr Poedjono. “We need to keep to the spirit of finding solutions and executing on agreed plans together.”

A lively interactive dialogue followed the panel discussion; questions on a range of issues, including nutrition literacy and consumer education, marketing to children – in which industry’s voluntary efforts to restrict advertising and marketing to children were commended, taxation on sugar and the challenge of scaling up programmes to tackle the dual burden in the region, were raised.