Tackling Obesity in Thailand with Industry Partnerships
Thailand faces the second highest obesity prevalence in Southeast Asia at 8.5 per cent, based on the recently launched “Tackling Obesity in ASEAN: Prevalence, impact, and guidance on interventions” report, which was produced by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and commissioned by the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN), and was launched in Thailand in June.
Among the six countries studied in the report, Thailand ranks just behind Malaysia (13.3 per cent) in terms of highest obesity prevalence in-country. While the country faces one of the lowest overall costs of obesity in ASEAN when considered as a percentage of its national healthcare spending (equivalent to between 3 per cent to 6 per cent), it is hit by the third highest dollar-value impact of the epidemic in the region, at between US$800 million to US$1.5 billion in 2016.
Speaking with the ARoFIIN Secretariat, Associate Professor Dr Visith Chavasit, Director of the Institute of Nutrition at Mahidol University in Thailand, who was referenced in the report, discusses the issue of a rising obesity rate in Thailand, and the opportunities for public-private partnerships to tackle the problem.
Key obesity drivers in Thailand, Dr Chavasit said, include poor dietary choices and the prevalence of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods. Societal factors such as the country’s family planning programme has also resulted in fewer children per family, which has led to a tendency for parents to overfeed their children. In the last year, Thailand has seen an increase in obese and overweight children from 12.5 per cent to 13.3 per cent, according to the Policy and Strategy Bureau of the Ministry of Public Health.
The report states that, fortunately, interviews with experts show that governmental awareness of Thailand’s obesity and overweight problem has been increasing. Apart from the establishment of the multi-stakeholder National Food Committee to improve food policy, including in relation to obesity, the Ministry of Public Health launched the Thailand Healthy Lifestyle Strategic Plan, which emphasised the risks of unhealthy eating habits, and the Bureau of Nutrition developed a National Nutrition Plan. Several public awareness campaigns involving the government, academia and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have also been initiated.