With millions of children and adults in Asia’s rapidly expanding cities suffering from undernutrition or obesity, malnutrition has dominated conversations, sparking urgent actions from world leaders and industry. Globally, nearly 2 billion adults are overweight, of which 672 million are obese. Each year, 15 million people die from a non-communicable disease (NCD) between the ages of 30 and 69 years, with over 85% of these "premature" deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries.
Ahead of the 5th ARoFIIN Roundtable taking place on 1 August 2019 in Bangkok, panellists consisting of regional players on the frontlines of addressing the double burden of malnutrition share their insights on the challenges that the world is seeing today in terms of improving health and nutrition, and the importance of multi-stakeholder collaborations to end all forms of malnutrition in Asia.
1) What do you think are the key challenges that the world is facing today in terms of improving health and nutrition?
Aaron Hawkins, Save the Children: Many countries around the world are facing numerous challenges related to nutrition. The first has to do with the parallel growing abundance of consumer choice and rapid urbanisation. This means that consumers know less about food and yet are overwhelmed by choice.
The second has to do with growing economic disparities within countries which has resulted in the rise of both undernourished and overnourished (obese) people. At the same time, you have micronutrient deficiencies that affect all, leading to long-term issues of malnutrition for all socioeconomic layers of society. This is often described as the triple burden of malnutrition which is pervasive in many Asian countries.
Massimo Reverberi, Bugsolutely: We are clearly living in an unbalanced world in terms of access to good food. I would say that the world can be divided into three nutritional areas –
- Where food security is not a problem and food safety is generally good. Obesity and other disease related to alimentary “excesses” may exist in these countries, but the trend is definitely toward healthy foods;
Where food security is not a problem, but food safety is, and these countries are shifting from a farmer’s society directly into a "convenience store" food culture;
Where malnutrition and low food safety are due to poverty, and people live in a “survival mode" permanently.
Sukiet Kittitammachote, Cargill: One key challenge would be managing the food supply to feed a growing population. In addition to being smart about how we use natural resources such as land and fresh water, we need to combine responsible production and innovative technology to help us manage our limited resources and ensure that we have enough food to feed the world.
The second challenge would be ensuring the accessibility of safe food and good nutrition for all, including underprivileged people and people living in remote areas. The private sector can support the community through initiatives that provide safe and good nutrition in daily lives. At Cargill, we started the 50 Healthy Schools project in Thailand, initiated in partnership with Save the Children, to develop a holistic nutrition and physical activity programme that also provides nutrition education to children, parents and teachers.
2) How important are partnerships to unlock change at the rate and scale needed to make better health a reality for more people in Asia?
Aaron Hawkins at the FIA Food for the Future Summit 2019
Aaron Hawkins, Save the Children: Partnerships are critical to being able to unlock promising change at a reasonable rate and scale. In Asia, the huge populations alongside rapid development make it important to seize the promise of industry, the voice of the community, and the power of government to drive the change for nutrition. Often, the missing link is a facilitator between these sides and a partner who can effectively engage the community.
This is where I believe non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can help. By building on their relationships with the government and the community, NGOs can find winning solutions for all sides to ensure that the community, public, and private sectors see their role in change and use their partnerships as a driving force to tackle malnutrition.
Warren Lee, FAO: The etiology and contribution to nutritional health in Asia cuts across many sectors, namely health, food and agriculture, social protection, education, trade & marketing, consumer behaviour and the private sectors. Multi-stakeholder partnerships ensure that the causes of ill health are addressed sufficiently from different perspectives so that effective results can be obtained upon implementation of cohesive, specific and effective policies and measures. We need to break the silos to allow inter-sectoral collaboration for the promotion of health and nutrition in Asia.
Partnerships accelerate changes to make better health a reality and help reduce people’s suffering from ill health and its complications. Building partnerships also helps to expedite national development and reduce economic losses due to ill health.
3) What are some steps that the food industry have been taking to accelerate action on ending hunger and nutrition?
“Insects may be small, but in the food market, they are the next big thing.” – Massimo Reverberi
Massimo Reverberi, Bugsolutely: I am in the edible insect market - a very small one! Start-ups in this new food segment are motivated not just by a business opportunity but also by the environmental and nutritional advantages of eating insects. Similarly, other alternative protein sources such as plants, algae, mushrooms have great potential to provide better food with less resources. Let’s not forget that cattle farming needs so much land and crops, at the expenses of the general availability of food for everyone. Any alternative to red meat is welcome, not just by the environment but also by the people in need of more or better food.
This article was originally published on the ARoFIIN website.
The 5th ARoFIIN Roundtable will take place on 1 August in Bangkok, Thailand. This roundtable aims to catalyse stakeholder relationships by bringing together regional experts to create and execute a collective global effort to transform diets and food products and to ensure that they are accessible and affordable for everyone.
More information and the full list of speakers can be found here.