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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Looking at the malnutrition situation in Southeast Asia, first looking at child under-nutrition, we see that the different forms of malnutrition are really rather high in Southeast Asia and are really of public health concern, which means they are not only affecting the individual, but also impact on social-economic indicators at the national level. So stunting above the 20% threshold, wasting above the 5% threshold, overweight, on average, 7, and very high low-birth-weight as well above 10%. Looking at how the countries individually are doing, we see that only 2 out of 10 countries in ASEAN have stunting levels below the public health cutoff point.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds And looking at wasting, we only have one country with wasting levels below the 5% cut off point, which means that all these countries are very much exposed to consequences of under-nutrition. Looking at overweight in children, we see very varying rates, going from 2% in Cambodia, up to 12% in Indonesia, 11% in Thailand. This is very, very worrying, because Indonesia, remember, had also 12% of wasting, which means that one child out of four has its weight not as it should be, meaning too low or too high. So these are very worrying trends in Southeast Asia, accounting for the double burden of malnutrition in a couple of these countries. Looking at micronutrient deficiencies, again, we see especially children affected.

Skip to 1 minute and 41 seconds For example, with anaemia across all countries, or at least very short to cutoff point in two countries out of 10. And also, women of reproductive age and pregnant women are very much affected by anemia in all countries. So this means that malnutrition is, really, very widespread in the most vulnerable groups in Southeast Asia. Looking at adult malnutrition levels, specifically looking at overweight, for example we see that in Southeast Asia one woman out of three is affected by overweight or obesity. One out of three, this is really quite a high number. This is one out of four the male population in Southeast Asia. So these are really quite high and alarming figures.

Skip to 2 minutes and 37 seconds This is quite unequally distributed across the different countries in the region. Clearly with Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines having a higher share of overweight and obesity, and countries such as Cambodia, Timor Leste still at lower levels of overweight and obesity. We should not forget as for child malnutrition, where we have the double burden, we also see the double burden of malnutrition, for example, in maternal malnutrition where countries do have quite high numbers of both underweight maternal rate levels or overweight. Some countries do have much higher overweight than underweight, but again, bottom line here to remember is that countries are also witnessing double burden of malnutrition in adult population, specifically maternal adult population.

Skip to 3 minutes and 35 seconds When we look at the trends in Southeast Asia, we see that stunting has, let’s say, halved over the past 15 years but is still largely above the public health threshold of 20%, which means that on average, indeed, stunting remains of a public health concern in Southeast Asia in general. During the same period, overweight in children, really, has more than tripled, which means that overweight is on the rise, but it’s rising much quicker than under-nutrition reducing. Looking at specific overweight levels in the female population also in Southeast Asia, we see that percentage-wise, probably, we can estimate that the normal weight in the female population has more or less remained the same, while under-nutrition has decreased, and overweight and obesity have increased.

Skip to 4 minutes and 39 seconds Southeast Asia is still at lower levels as other regions, but it is very important to understand the trends that we see in obesity generally. We are not talking about a linear increase in obesity, but we’re really talking about exponential increase in obesity, including in Southeast Asia. And we know that obesity is putting a lot of pressure on the health care system. And it is very, very likely that this will further increase over the coming years in Southeast Asia in countries that may not have optimal functioning health care systems in place. So looking at the trends, again, over the past 15 years, overweight has approximately doubled in Southeast Asia while obesity has tripled in this region.

Skip to 5 minutes and 33 seconds Specifically, also looking at Indonesia, we see that while obesity and overweight are still highest in the wealthiest population, in poorest populations, these increases are really much quicker than in a healthier population. I think this is a very, very important finding as well, indicating that on the contrary, contradiction to what we tend to believe is that obesity and overweight is a problem of the urban rich. This is also clearly a problem of the poor and rural population. So again, very important to understand the double burden of malnutrition in Southeast Asia, where the most vulnerable population groups, such as children and woman, are clearly affected with levels of malnutrition that impact on social-economic national outcomes.

Skip to 6 minutes and 26 seconds And while we do have some reduction in malnutrition, we need to be aware that overweight and obesity are increasing much quicker, and that all Southeast Asian countries are affected one way or the other.

Nutrition in Southeast Asia

What is the outlook for nutrition across Southeast Asia? In this video, Katrien Ghoos, of the World Food Programme Regional Bureau of Asia and the Pacific, discusses the prevalence of malnutrition in the region and the challenges posed by this growing health problem.

Katrien uses statistics to reveal some of the key nutritional challenges for both adults and children in the region. Across different Southeast Asian countries, we see variations in the numbers of obese and underweight people, child stunting, malnutrition, and diet-related diseases. The data she provides make for interesting cross-country comparisons.


What public health concerns does the high number of overweight and obese people raise?

The views expressed in this video are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Food Programme (WFP).

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This video is from the free online course:

Food and Our Future: Sustainable Food Systems in Southeast Asia

Stockholm Environment Institute