Leaders from ASEAN countries have declared the need to “work together with other stakeholders, including NGOs and the private sector” to strengthen efforts in tackling non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the region.

Through the Bandar Seri Begawan Declaration on Non-Communicable Diseases in ASEAN adopted at the 23rd ASEAN Summit earlier this month, the leaders have called for the region’s health, food and trade ministers to work together for a “common understanding on healthier food choices” and to “increase the availability, accessibility and uptake of healthier food options”.

The declaration, which states NCDs “are the leading causes of deaths in ASEAN Member States”, also highlighted that the urgent need to “accelerate actions to reduce risk factors for NCDs”.

Confirming the countries’ commitment to the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Global Action Plan (GAP) for the Prevention and Control of NCDs, the declaration also urged the leaders to enhance local efforts to deliver against the nine voluntary global targets mapped out in the WHO GAP.

FIA Policy Director, Melanie Vilarasau Slade, said it is very encouraging to see the ASEAN ministers calling for a collaborative approach to the NCD challenge.

“Following the adoption of the WHO GAP during the 66th World Health Assembly in May, we have seen a shift in the discussion from the development of a global framework, to the need for local implementation.

“Regulators across the region have been developing implementation measures to meet the nine targets laid out in the plan and this declaration marks an important next step in these efforts. The Declaration acknowledges that a coordinated approach requires Ministers responsible for health, food industry development and trade to work together to ensure the availability and accessibility of healthy food options.”

In response to the call for ASEAN governments to work together with other stakeholders, including the private sector, in order to establish a common understanding on healthier food choices, Ms Vilarasau added the food industry understands the complex NCD challenge, and is responding.

“The food industry is already working with governments in Asia and collaborating on the implementation of intervention measures to encourage healthier lifestyles in Asia. These measures include guidelines on marketing to children, nutrition labelling, product reformulation , nutrition education and physical activity promotion.

Ms Vilarasau added there are a number of examples of where the industry is stepping up to encourage healthier lifestyles.

“Several large food and beverage companies in countries such as India, Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia have adopted self-regulatory measures on advertising to children under the age of 12. Many companies are also working with civil society partners to reformulate or change menu options to support a balanced diet, and encourage healthier choices.

“McDonald’s, for example, has collaborated with the Clinton Global Initiative to change its menu options in 20 countries around the world including in Asia to offer fruit or vegetables with its popular Happy Meals and committing to promoting this and water, milk and juice as beverage options.

“The industry believes that the NCD problem is a multi-factorial issue which requires collaborative effort from all parties,” she said.

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