Health and nutrition challenges were high on the global policy agenda in 2013, with a number of significant initiatives in Asia and around the world.

The adoption of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Action Plan (GAP) for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in May; the establishment of the United Nations (UN) taskforce on NCDs in July; and the adoption of the Bandar Seri Begawan Declaration on NCDs in ASEAN at the 23rd ASEAN Summit in October, were just some of the 2013 initiatives to encourage healthier lifestyles.

Adopted at the 66th World Health Assembly, the WHO Global Action Plan on NCDs provides a framework of recommendations and guidelines that countries have been urged to follow in devising their respective national approaches to tackle NCDs. Nine voluntary targets for the prevention and control of NCDs, including a 30 per cent reduction in the mean population intake of salt and the elimination of industrially-produced trans fat, are also outlined in the global plan.

The Bandar Seri Begawan Declaration on NCDs in ASEAN acknowledges the need to accelerate local efforts to deliver against the nine voluntary global targets mapped out in the WHO GAP. It also calls for the region’s health, food and trade ministers to work together to ensure the availability and accessibility of healthy food options.

To coordinate international efforts to implement the WHO GAP, the WHO and UN announced the establishment of the UN Interagency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of NCDs to be convened and led by the WHO. There were also calls by senior UN leaders for greater emphasis on public private partnerships.

In line with these initiatives, throughout 2013 the food industry has played a key role in encouraging healthier lifestyles, stepping up efforts both on an industry basis, and in partnership with the public sector. The last 12 months have seen the industry encourage nutrition literacy and healthier diet choices, promote physical activity and reformulate products through a number of global, regional, and in-country initiatives.

These initiatives are at their most effective where they are conducted in partnership with national governments. In the Philippines, for example, the industry has been working closely with the public sector to introduce voluntary front-of-pack nutrition labelling to enable consumers to make informed food choices at-a-glance. This effort is accompanied by nutrition education campaigns that help educate the public on nutrition and nutrition labelling.

Building on these initiatives, the Pilipinas Go4Health programme was launched in June as a collaborative effort between the private and public sectors across the country to highlight the need for proper nutrition and physical activity.

Companies have also demonstrated their commitment to encouraging healthier lifestyles through responsible marketing practices. In August, ten big food and beverage companies in Malaysia adopted the self-regulatory Responsible Advertising to Children pledge, which has been endorsed by the Malaysian government, to help shift the nature and balance of advertising to children, and support parental efforts to encourage healthier choices for their families.

Food companies in Singapore are now working with the Singapore government to extend the current Singapore Advertising Pledge, announced by fourteen companies in October 2012 and implemented in January 2013.

FIA Policy Director, Melanie Vilarasau Slade, said the significant efforts made by the private sector over last year highlight the industry’s firm commitment to encouraging healthier lifestyles in Asia, and around the world.

“The adoption of the WHO GAP further stimulated efforts in Asia, and internationally, to combat NCDs. A key element in addressing this challenge is encouraging healthier lifestyle choices and the food industry has played a key role in ensuring not only that companies play their part, but in supporting government efforts to reach out to consumers in the promotion of healthy lifestyles and nutrition literacy.

“2013 saw the industry collectively and individually build on its efforts to reformulate existing products, develop innovations that offer healthier options to consumers, adopt voluntary measures on responsible advertising and front-of-pack labelling.

“Health and nutrition continues to be a leading global and regional priority and there’s no doubt that these efforts will continue as we head into 2014,” she said.

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