Multi-stakeholder Efforts to Tackle Diabetes for a Healthy Future

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) observes World Diabetes Day 2017 today, with the theme “Women and diabetes - our right to a healthy future”. With one in two adults going undiagnosed for type 2 diabetes, this year's activities and materials promote the importance of affordable and equitable access for all women at risk for, or living with, diabetes.

According to the IDF, there are currently over 199 million women living with diabetes. This total is projected to increase to 313 million by 2040. Two out of every five women with diabetes are of reproductive age, accounting for over 60 million women worldwide. Diabetes, the IDF adds, is the ninth leading cause of death across women globally, causing 2.1 million deaths per year.

  Source: International Diabetes Federation (IDF)

In Southeast Asia, experts warn that the rise in obesity rates is likely to put more individuals at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which will have an impact on the overall health of the region’s population, as well as its health systems. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between the years 2000 and 2030, the prevalence rate of diabetes is expected to more than double within the ASEAN Six – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – as obesity rates continue to rise.

In Singapore, the government declared a war on diabetes in April last year. Tying in with this expansive national strategy, Singapore’s Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong highlighted the importance of fighting diabetes in his National Day Rally 2017 speech. According to PM Lee, one out of every nine Singaporeans has diabetes; the prevalence rate increases according to age – a third of all Singaporeans aged over 60 have diabetes. He went on to encourage citizens to exercise more, go for regular medical check-ups, eat more healthily, and cut down consumption of soft drinks.

What’s driving the increase?

Studies have shown that the increased intake of foods that are high in added sugars is a contributor to obesity, as it is associated with an increase in body weight and fat mass.

According to the “Tackling obesity in ASEAN: Prevalence, impact, and guidance on interventions” report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, there is a strong correlation between obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – there is a 7 per cent chance of diabetes among obese people, compared to a 3 per cent chance among the non-obese.

How can we beat diabetes?

The IDF states that up to 70 per cent of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented with the adoption of healthy lifestyles, and that 70 per cent of premature deaths among adults are largely caused by poor behaviour initiated during adolescence. The IDF emphasises that women are the gatekeepers of household nutrition and lifestyle habits, and therefore have the potential to drive prevention of diabetes from within the household and beyond. As mothers, women have significant influence over the long-term health status of their children; therefore, if granted greater control over resources, they allocate more to food, children’s health and nutrition, and education.

Both women and girls are key agents in the adoption of healthy lifestyles, in order to improve the health and wellbeing of future generations, the IDF adds. As such, these groups should be empowered with easy and equitable access to knowledge and resources to strengthen their capacities to prevent type 2 diabetes in their families and better safeguard their own health.

Similar to PM Lee’s recommendations, the IDF advocates for an all-rounded and whole-of-systems approach to prevent and manage diabetes: promote opportunities for more physical exercise; provide better access to diabetes medicines, technologies and education; and help to improve consumers’, particular pregnant women’s, nutrition intake.

Type 2 diabetes prevention strategies, according to the IDF, must focus on maternal health and nutrition and other health behaviours before and during pregnancy, as well as infant and early childhood nutrition.

  Source: International Diabetes Federation (IDF)

Product innovation and collaboration for better health and nutrition

Food Industry Asia (FIA) supports the view that sustainable, regional multi-stakeholder efforts are needed to improve diets and stabilise rates of obesity and chronic disease in Asia.

FIA recognises the observance of World Diabetes Day 2017 by highlighting how many of its members – major food & beverage companies – have taken innovative steps to respond to the region’s complex challenges related to health and nutrition, particularly that of obesity and NCDs such as diabetes. FIA and its member companies share common values around the responsible promotion of balanced diets and lifestyles, recognising that healthy eating is a key contributing factor in the fight against diabetes.

Together with policymakers, the food industry has sharpened its focus in educating consumers to practise healthier dietary choices, through the provision of nutrition labels on packaged food products, and through product innovation and reformulation.

Nutrition labelling is one cost-effective strategy that enables the consumer to make informed dietary choices. Seen as a credible source of information and an education tool that can help influence consumer behaviour at the point of purchase, food companies have voluntarily adopted front-of-pack nutrition labels on their pre-packaged products to inform consumers of the nutrients present in a clear and easy-to-understand way. Several FIA member companies had made global commitments to roll out GDA labelling in all of the markets they operate in by the end of 2016. Ferrero, Kellogg’s, Mars, Nestlé and PepsiCo have adopted GDA labels in all of the Asian countries they are present in.

Food industry players have also been making significant efforts to reduce sugar across products, through reformulation and renovation efforts, in order to provide consumers with healthier options. Further significant efforts, such as responsible marketing and advertising, are some avenues of a multi-faceted approach to tackle chronic illnesses such as obesity and diabetes.

The global diabetes epidemic has triggered debates and galvanised partnerships among governments, public health bodies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), think tanks and the food industry worldwide, as key stakeholders look to develop solutions to help tackle complex health and nutrition challenges. As part of its mission, FIA is harnessing the power of partnership to launch regional multi-stakeholder efforts, largely through the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN), to meet public health objectives.

FIA member companies are continuously improving product offerings so as to provide healthier options that contain more whole grains and fibre; more calcium, vitamins and minerals; more low-fat dairy; more vegetables and fruit; reduced sodium levels; less fat; less sugar; and fewer calories. This also includes the development of more affordable nutrient-dense food products for specific consumer groups, such as diabetics.