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Poor diets and ill-equipped food systems are a growing threat to nutrition in Asia-Pacific

FAO report points to pressing need to boost regional food systems, accelerate action to improve diets and nutrition

07/11/2017 Bangkok/Rome

The Asia-Pacific region, home to most of the world’s undernourished people, needs urgent action to improve diets and reset its food systems which are critical to the delivery of healthy, nutritious foods, FAO said today.

According to the findings of FAO’s 2017 Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutritionreport, there is a pressing need to tackle malnutrition alongside further promotion of the consumption of healthier foods while curbing the growth in consumption of unhealthy foods. 

In addition to further investment in agriculture, the report also underlines an urgent need to step up investment in other areas to tackle malnutrition, such as improvements to sanitation, access to safe drinking water, improving diets during the first 1,000 days of life and policies and promotions to increase consumption of diverse nutrient-rich foods.

While food security has improved for millions of people in the Asia-Pacific region, hunger and malnutrition appear to be on the rise in some areas, the report warns. The latest figures indicate roughly half-a-billion people are undernourished in Asia and the Pacific.

The situation is particularly dire for children below the age of five. Overall, one-in-four suffers from stunting.  However, the report also finds that, during the last 15 years, obesity is on the rise, with “significant increases” in the prevalence of overweight children, particularly in South Asia (from three percent to seven percent) and Oceania (from five percent to nearly ten percent).

UN agencies, policy makers, private sector pool efforts

The report’s findings were released today in Bangkok at the Asia-Pacific Symposium on Sustainable Food Systems for Healthy Diets and Improved Nutrition. The symposium has drawn some 250 parliamentarians, policy-makers, academicians, researchers, students, civil society, the private sector and development partners from countries across the region and beyond.

Experts will discuss policies and programmes that can enable better production, processing and distribution of food, as well as more effective ways to promote better nutrition and healthier diets. The symposium is convened by FAO in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP), World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the World Bank.

The symposium was opened by FAO’s Special Goodwill Ambassador for Zero Hunger in the region, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, who called upon the participants to work together to find solutions. “The world has committed to zero hunger and improving nutrition as a key outcome of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. We must look at improving our current systems of production and patterns of consumption, and set a course of action.”

The FAO report also highlighted a call for more innovations to stem food loss and food waste, in a cost-effective manner, which could also play an important part in improving overall food systems.

Zero Hunger by 2030 is still possible

Although the prevalence of hunger has increased in some parts of the region, the 2030 goal is still within reach. But more investment will be needed to improve food systems across the region, a call also repeated at the opening of the regional symposium.

“Good nutrition depends on raising awareness about healthy foods and choices, as well as efficient, affordable and sustainable systems to deliver that food,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. “If we are to reach the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger in this region, we must invest to improve our food systems and pool our knowledge and resources to meet our current food and nutrition challenges head on.”

UN Decade of Action on Nutrition

The symposium is an integral component of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition 2016-2025, which seeks to increase investments and actions to improve people’s diets and nutrition. Recent innovations and the latest research in nutrition and food systems from this region, as well as the rest of the world, are being examined over two days. The aim is to discuss concrete actions that result in higher quality and more efficient production, processing and distribution of food, in addition to healthy and sustainable diets. In order to achieve those goals, participants will work toward activating regional and global partnerships and networks that promote nutrition-sensitive agriculture. The Asia-Pacific forum is one of five regional symposia that are taking forward the outcomes of the International Symposium on Sustainable Food Systems and Healthy Diets held last December in Rome. 

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