Evidence-based Solutions Needed to Address the Double Burden of Malnutrition

Source: Philippine Association of Nutrition, Inc. (PAN)

The rapid increase of obesity rates and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Philippines, along with the persistence of under-nutrition among children, require nutrition experts to come up with approaches and solutions that are not only evidence-based, but also context-specific.

This was one of the key themes at the Philippine Association of Nutrition, Inc. (PAN) 70th Anniversary and Annual Convention held in Manila, Philippines, on 13 and 14 July 2017. Under the theme “Healthy Lifestyle . . . for LIFE!” the conference brought together nutritionists, academics, students, policymakers and regulators, and representatives from the food industry in the Philippines and across the world, to focus on dietary interventions intended to address the double burden of malnutrition.

Delivering a keynote address at the convention, Professor Jeyakumar Henry, Director of the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre (CNRC) – a joint initiative between the Singapore Institute of Clinical Sciences (SICS) of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), and the National University Health System (NUHS) – said that it is vital that policy decisions are made on evidence-based science rather than intuition or extrapolation of recommendations implemented in the West. Professor Henry said that the Asian phenotype appears to respond to food differently, and highlighted how foods ingested are metabolised and utilised differently in Asians, during his presentation.

Mr Steven Bartholomeusz, Director of Advocacy & Communications at Food Industry Asia (FIA), presented data from the World Health Organization (WHO) on obesity and NCDs, as well as a recently launched report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) on the economic cost of obesity in six ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, which shows that obesity rates have grown at an average of 28 per cent in a four-year period from 2010 to 2014. The EIU claims that obesity costs the six ASEAN countries surveyed up to US$10 billion in 2016.

Speaking during a plenary discussion on “How are stakeholders responding to the evidence?”, Mr Bartholomeusz highlighted the EIU report’s finding that policymakers in low- and middle-income ASEAN countries have a “blind spot” when it comes to obesity, and that ASEAN countries lack granular data on obesity prevalence and intervention impacts.

“While the food industry in the region and across the globe are responding to these issues via voluntary labelling schemes, voluntary pledges to restrict marketing to kids, product innovation and reformulation, the industry remains under pressure from regulators and policymakers,” he said.

“To deliver a solution to the problem of obesity and NCDs requires a whole-of-society approach – the public and private sector, academics, nutritionist and civil society working together. This is vital to deliver sustainable outcomes.”

In her closing remarks, Dr Regina A. Pedro, Overall Convention Chair of the PAN 70th Anniversary and Convention, emphasised the importance of engaging in partnership with industry players and students, who she said are bound to contribute to the common interest to protect the nutrition of the general population.

Over 700 participants attended the two-day conference held in Quezon City, Manila.

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