Partnership at the Heart of Addressing Nutrition and Health Challenges in Asia

With at least 1.9 billion people around the world considered overweight and obese, and – on the flip side of this – another 925 million suffering from hunger, the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN) is determined to come up with a home-grown solution to tackle these problems in Asia.

ARoFIIN is a unique partnership centred on using innovative ways to deliver science-based solutions. On 29 January 2016, senior delegates from government, academia, industry and civil society around Asia gathered in Singapore for the 2nd ARoFIIN Roundtable, and agreed to pursue an integrated approach to solving some of the biggest health challenges in the region.

Mr Zee Yong Kang, Chief Executive Officer of the Singapore Health Promotion Board (HPB) and one of the three conveners of ARoFIIN, welcomed the delegates and stressed the importance of conducting rigorous research and producing evidence-based data.

"Asia should find its own solutions to tackling obesity and diabetes, which are unique and its own, and not just adopt guidelines and policies that seem to have worked in the West. We should give importance to good nutrition education to shift consumer behaviour and forge genuine collaborations in science to avoid making bad policy decisions," Mr Zee added.

“We need to focus on the uniqueness of the Asian phenotype and diet,” said Professor Jeyakumar Henry, Director of the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre (CNRC), Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS) of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). In his keynote address, Prof. Henry underscored the need for food and nutrition research in Asia as the region's health issues are markedly different to those seen in the West. He pointed to the difference in metabolic responses to food and the distinct etiology of obesity and Type 2 Diabetes among Asians.

"Diet in this region is predominantly based on high carbohydrate and high glycemic index rice. As such, public health and food policies based on research conducted on Western subjects may not be entirely relevant or applicable this region,” he said.

Prof. Henry lauded the ARoFIIN approach for its successful assembly of major thought leaders from across Asia – working with a cohesive vision to improve health and nutrition by involving private-public partnership.

Case studies demonstrating multi-stakeholder and public-private partnership projects in the region, which involve academic institutions, public agencies, industry players, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil societies were presented. The case studies, which featured science and technology interventions to reduce malnutrition (Philippines), crowd-sourcing data to improve diet (Australia), rice fortification to address hidden hunger (DSM, Singapore), healthy breakfast education (Indonesia) and nutrition surveys to improve nutrition of target groups (FrieslandCampina, SEA), were well-received by the delegates and seeded the ideas for the breakout discussions that followed.

Launching into real action, the delegates identified key areas to work on, which include addressing the critical knowledge gap for obesity, undernutrition, diabetes and NCDs. The experts recognised the importance of developing an up-to-date Asian food composition and consumption database, using modern information and communication technologies, and supporting effective reformulation of food products that impact health and are acceptable to consumers. Moving forward, targeted projects and activities shall be implemented and scaled up in local markets.

The discussions and plans agreed upon at the 2nd Roundtable in Singapore highlighted the key role of ARoFIIN as a conduit for knowledge-sharing and consolidator of a holistic systems’ approach to addressing Asia’s health challenges.

“Clearly, the attainment of ARoFIIN’s objectives, and to see a healthier Asia, relies on the dynamism, dedication and commitment of all stakeholders,” said Matt Kovac, Executive Director of Food Industry Asia (FIA).

“To effectively tackle a global issue like obesity, collaborations – particularly public-private partnerships – are necessary to the process. The teamwork across this unique public-private platform gives us the ability to scale up projects at a quicker rate, ease the transfer of technology and skills, and conduct wider outreach and dissemination of knowledge and resources,” he added.

Convened by HPB, A*STAR, SICS and FIA, the 2nd ARoFIIN Roundtable carried the theme "From knowledge to action: Listen, learn and lead to deliver results”.

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