Tackling the Double Burden through PPPs

The impact of obesity on people, healthcare systems and economies is an ongoing debate among academics, industry, governments and regulators, amplified across media platforms on a near daily basis.

In Asia, while there has been a sharp growth in obesity rates (a recent study in Malaysia pointed to nearly 50 per cent of the adult population being overweight or obese), the number of people who suffer from hunger also remains steady. This double burden of obesity and undernutrition has become an emerging threat to health and healthcare systems in the region. It requires immediate action, which needs to be driven not only by governments and regulators, but also by innovations in the food industry driven by the private sector, as well as scientists and academics – all operating in the region and working in partnership to deliver solutions.

To get a better understanding of the issues of obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), as well as their economic impact on regional economies and possible interventions, one such partnership, the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN), commissioned a study in April 2016, titled “The Current Landscape and State of Health in Relation to Obesity in South-East Asia”, by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

The report is now in its final stages of review and is set to be launched in April 2017. This will be the first time the economic impact of obesity across ASEAN will be looked at. The final report will indicate the scale of both the direct and indirect economics costs of obesity, as well as assess policy interventions.

ARoFIIN is convened by Singapore government agencies including the Health Promotion Board (HPB), the Agency for Science Technology and Research (A*STAR) and the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS), and Food Industry Asia (FIA).

Set up at the beginning of 2015, ARoFIIN focuses on leveraging public-private partnerships to bring together a range of experts from the sectors of academia, government, industry and civil society from across the Asian region, in order to initiate and sustain regional, multi-stakeholder dialogue on the role of food innovation in tackling obesity and chronic diseases in the region.

This group of key decision-makers works toward fostering a conducive forum to support the dissemination of science-based information on the causes and drivers of obesity and chronic disease, as well as to improve clarity on the barriers and enablers for food innovation and research and development (R&D) in the region. ARoFIIN leverages effective public-private partnerships and stimulates scalable, cost-effective and multi-stakeholder strategies that seek to drive food innovation and positive change in consumer behaviour.

“To effectively tackle a global issue like obesity, which is becoming more prevalent in Asia, along with undernutrition, collaboration between multiple stakeholders – particularly public-private partnerships – are vital,” says Matt Kovac, Executive Director of FIA, an ARoFIIN partner.

“Public-private partnerships like ARoFIIN present us with a great opportunity to bring a diverse range of multi-disciplinary experts to the table. “FIA believes the food industry has an important role to play in participating, and also to help drive forward initiatives like ARoFIIN,” he adds.

Public-private partnerships, such as ARoFIIN, can play an increasingly important role in the debate on the impact of obesity and undernutrition on lives, healthcare systems and economies in Asia and across the globe. Private sector executives, government officials and members of civil society have recognised, through these partnerships, the opportunity and need to deliver successful and sustainable results.