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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds So looking at the food supply in Southeast Asia, we see that food insecurity, indeed, has decreased over the last 15 years. But at the same time, availability for calories from non-staple foods has increased. This is in line with a shifting diet from staples to, let’s say, processed foods. And we also see availability of fruits and vegetables going up at least up to 2010, after which some stagnation seemed to be observed.

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 seconds This is really reflected in the different dietary patterns across the region, as we see for the different countries, some countries do still rely very much on staple foods, while other countries have already adopted an animal-origin rich diet, with not only increasing their share of animal-origin in their diet, but also increasing the overall kilocalorie intake. And we see that this is related to overweight and obesity, as we can see that countries such as Brunei, Malaysia, and Thailand, do have the highest kilocalorie intake, and those countries also observe the highest overweight and obesity levels in the region.

Skip to 1 minute and 22 seconds These dietary patterns leading to overweight and obesity are clearly linked to high levels of different types of non-communicable diseases related to increased blood glucose, diabetes, higher blood cholesterol, and raised blood pressure. So there is a clear linkage between non-communicable diseases, dietary patterns, and food systems in Southeast Asia. We also noticed earlier, that there is still a lot of under-nutrition in the region, specifically, looking at the most vulnerable groups– women and children, looking at micro-nutrient deficiencies, but also wasting and stunting– different forms of under-nutrition, with some increase, as we mentioned earlier, in overweight and obesity, both for children and women.

Skip to 2 minutes and 15 seconds Looking at feeding practises, specifically in young children, we see that exclusive breastfeeding is not widely practised in this region, and we notice a couple of countries with very low levels of exclusive breastfeeding. This is most probably related to the changing trend, in terms of accessing employment for a woman, working long working hours, obviously, gives them less time to exclusive breastfeed if no measures are put in place for women to exclusive breastfeed at their working place, which makes them vulnerable to publicity from breast milk substitute companies, and may be pushing them to make the wrong choice to feed their young child, because exclusive breastfeeding remains the best feeding practise for children from 0 to 6 months.

Skip to 3 minutes and 8 seconds When children get older, they do need to access older types of food. These foods need to be nutrient-rich, nutrient-dense, because a child has a small stomach, and at the same time, a child also needs to eat a specific number of times in order to make sure the correct number of– the correct amount of nutrients is indeed absorbed by the child. So these complementary feeding practises are expressed in different types of indicators– minimum meal frequency, minimum dietary diversity, combined into mineral-acceptable diet. Minimum meal frequency, obviously it’s very obvious that the right number of meals. A minimum dietary diversity looks at the types of food the child is having.

Skip to 3 minutes and 56 seconds And here we see also a real problem in most of our Southeast Asian countries, which means that while children seem to have sufficient number of meals, in most cases, the diversity of their diet is really not optimal, and this suboptimal diet diversity really leads to problems of under-nutrition. And we see in certain countries, for example, we do have data from Cambodia, where we notice that our families buy snack foods, ultra-processed foods for these children, because nutrient-rich complementary foods locally-produced are not necessarily available, affordable, or acceptable, or fresh foods are not sufficiently available in the market and are also not affordable.

Skip to 4 minutes and 43 seconds So this clearly indicates a problem that the market can help to solve– making more-nutrient dense food available for this very vulnerable category in Southeast Asia. So in general, we see that food systems in Southeast Asia are probably categorised into rural, emerging, and to a certain extent, transitioning food systems. We also learned that in these food systems, we still see a high level of under-nutrition, but with the changes in accessing processed foods in these countries we can also expect a further increase in levels of overweight. Both under-nutrition and over-nutrition will continue posing very important problems on socioeconomic development in Southeast Asian countries.

Consumption, diets and nutrition

Dietary choices have clear impacts on health. Earlier, Katrien Ghoos, of the World Food Programme Regional Bureau of Asia and the Pacific, described overweight and malnutrition trends in Southeast Asia. In this video she focuses on the links between consumption, diets, nutrition and health outcomes in the region.


Katrien presents a statistical analysis of Southeast Asian nutrition and diets, highlighting concerning trends, particularly among children. She discusses some of the structural and socio-economic factors that may promote poor eating – and thus poor nutrition.

In the comment section below, tell us: What else can you attribute these trends to?

For further reading, take a look at this article on health experts’ concerns about dietary trends in Vietnam which presents similar arguments.

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