Globalisation, urbanisation and rapid economic growth have had a significant impact on diets and lifestyles in South East Asia. This is according to the new Southeast Asian Nutrition Surveys (SEANUTS) study conducted in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Initiated by Royal FrieslandCampina in collaboration with reputed institutes and universities in each country, the study surveyed 16,744 children to gain insights into the dietary intake habits, nutritional and health status, physical activity and cognition of children aged 0.5 to 12 years.

The studies highlight that while all four countries continue to tackle under-nutrition, all are also facing an increasing prevalence of over-nutrition as a result of changing consumption patterns and more sedentary lifestyles, particularly in urban centres. It found:

  • Under-nutrition remains a major problem in Indonesia and rural Vietnam;
  • Over-nutrition is a growing concern in Malaysia and Thailand and in urban areas of Vietnam and Indonesia, it is an emerging problem;
Principal investigator for Seanuts Vietnam Le Nguyen Bao Khanh explains: “All four countries participating in the SEANUTS study face the double burden of malnutrition. The prevalence of malnourished rural children and overweight urban children is highest in Vietnam; far higher than in Malaysia and Thailand. Stunting is still a major issue [in Vietnam], although it is less serious than in Indonesia. The prevalence of vitamin A, D and iron deficiency among children is highest in Vietnam.”

Principal investigator for SEANUTS Malaysia, Professor Poh Bee Koon, added: “Improved living standards mean that people can afford to spend more on food… All this naturally has consequences for food consumption. Then there is the increased use of computers, televisions and cars. People are becoming less active.”

FIA Chief Scientific Officer, Kim Leighton, agrees that these macro trends are having an impact on health and nutrition in Asia. He welcomed the new research and noted the importance of sound scientific evidence on which effective intervention strategies can be developed. He added that governments in the region are aware of these challenges, and are responding.

“Governments, industry and other stakeholders in these countries, as well as other markets in Asia are focused on developing collaborative and multi-faceted solutions to the dual burden of over and under nutrition in the region. The availability of good nutrition research provides a cornerstone in these discussions and these new studies form a valuable part of the evidence base.

“The food industry has been working closely with a wide range of stakeholders in all four countries surveyed to help encourage healthy, active lifestyles. For example, voluntary, front-of-pack guideline daily amount labelling has been introduced by FIA companies in all countries to help consumers make more informed dietary choices.

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