Sustainable Food Policies Needed to Encourage Promotion of a Healthier Nation
Subang Jaya, 23 July 2018 - The findings from the national Food-Environment Policy Index (Food-EPI) study released today highlights that the overall Malaysian food environment policies were in place and rated positively, but their implementation were not highly rated when compared to international benchmarks. For instance, the Food-EPI points to stricter policies required in order to restrain unhealthy food and beverage marketing directed at children’s settings and media.
Another recommendation was a need for mandatory nutrition labelling of food products towards sodium, total sugar and added sugar contents. In this area, setting food composition targets in relation to nutrients of concerns on the food label such as sodium targets for selected food groups was deemed urgent. Experts involved in the Food-EPI rating also supported the need to introduce calorie menu board labelling in fast-food chains and other food outlets, to benefit consumers in making informed choices.
Conducted for the first time in Malaysia, the Food-EPI tool assesses the implementation of government policies and infrastructure support systems essential to promoting healthier food environments here, compared to other countries with best practices. The Food-EPI is developed through the International Network for Food and Obesity/NCD Research, Monitoring and Action Support (INFORMAS) and experts from Taylor’s University, National University of Malaysia, University of Wollongong (Australia), University of Auckland (New Zealand) and The International Health Policy Program (Thailand); and part of a major project funded through the Canadian International Development Research Centre for Malaysia and Vietnam with Thailand as a comparator.
Taylor’s University Strategic Interests appointment, Professor Dr Tilakavati Karupaiah is leading this Food-EPI project. Professor Karupaiah stressed that the Malaysian population still has a long way to go to achieve the nutritional health standards set by international bodies like World Health Organisation (WHO). She shared that findings from the Food-EPI will play a critical role in helping the Malaysian government and relevant agencies enhance the food environments towards influencing healthier food consumptions and dietary choices.
The Food-EPI assessment looked at food environment policies and their infrastructure supports from 13 Ministries. A Panel of 26 local and independent public health experts from academia, non-governmental organisations and professionals provided ratings against international best practices and set priority recommendations to stimulate strategies to close the gaps in policy implementation.
Public health experts believe dietary risks constitute the largest proportion of causes of NCDs in Malaysia, followed by high blood pressure, tobacco smoking and other risk factors. Internationally, the healthiness of food environments has been recognised as part of the essential strategies to curb rising NCDs and obesity. “Overall, the Malaysian food environments were rated positive. Under the policy component, ingredient lists and nutrient labelling, healthy food-related income support and regulatory systems for nutrition claims were ranked as the top areas with medium implementation; while restricting unhealthy food promotion at children’s settings was rated having the lowest implementation. Under the assessment on infrastructure support systems, establishment of dietary guidelines and monitoring of population nutritional status and intakes against targets, NCDs risk factors and prevalence were rated as medium implementation,” Professor Karupaiah explained.
Based on the assessment findings, the Food-EPI has recommended several top priorities, including:
- Restrict promotion of unhealthy food and beverage directed at children’s settings and media;
- Set mandatory nutritional labelling (sodium, total sugar and added sugars) on products and to require calorie menu board labelling for all fast food chains and other food outlets;
- Set sodium targets and investigate food composition standards for added sugar and saturated fat for selected food groups;
- Investigate restriction on opening hours of fast food restaurants and seek opportunities to restrict the opening of new outlets near schools and residential areas;
- Introduce taxes on sugary drinks with revenues applied to healthy diets for children and investigate price rise in fruits and vegetables;
- Optimise usage of existing monitoring system (e.g. the National Physical Fitness Standard - SEGAK data) and provide appropriate feedback and referral mechanism;
- Strengthen access to information related to public consultation and provide open access for submissions by the main affected parties; and
- Continue to designate funding for research and population nutrition promotion budget to be commensurate with the unhealthy dietary burden and strengthen sustainable funding for the Malaysian Health Promotion Board.
The Food-EPI research believes there is no silver bullet to building a healthier nation. The Food-EPI’s advisor, Emeritus Professor Dr. Mohd Ismail Noor, who served the nutritional community in Malaysia over four decades and currently a member of the Faculty of Hospitality, Food and Leisure Management, Taylor’s University indicated that, “While the introduction of effective preventive policies in ensuring healthier food environments is important, but equal emphasis should be given on the implementation of these policies in a cohesive and collaborated manner across all government agencies, food producers, operators, and other stakeholders”.
Commenting on the project, Taylor’s University Pro Vice-Chancellor in Research and Enterprise, Associate Professor Dr Anthony Ho, said, “Malaysia is experiencing exceptionally high prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as evidenced in 73% of total deaths in the country related to NCDs as reported in the 2015 National Health and Morbidity Survey. The good news is that NCDs and obesity are preventable. Thus, it is critical the government and relevant stakeholders gain better insights into the implementation of preventive policies and resources needed to tackle the magnitude of the social and economic burden brought about by NCDs”.
“At Taylor’s University, we believe research could help to shape the future and benefit communities. Research projects like the Food-EPI is a good start to bring together academia, experts and researchers to gather comprehensive data which will allow the formulation and enhancement of policies that ensures the healthiness of our food environments and we are glad to be part of this flagship project,” said Associate Professor Dr. Anthony Ho.
Taylor’s University has embarked on multiple research projects focusing on food, nutrition, culture and wellness issues facing the Malaysian communities. Last year, the University kick-started a multi-disciplinary research project tackling the obesity issue. Taylor’s was the first private higher education institution in Malaysia to be recognised by The French National Scientific Research Organization, or CNRS, to champion the establishment of a joint research laboratory addressing issues on food, cultures and human health in 2016.
About Taylor’s University
Since its inception in 1969, Taylor’s has continuously provided excellent services for its students in terms of diverse study options, relevant curriculum and teaching methods, ongoing partnerships with leading universities worldwide, strong industry linkages, up-to-date facilities and well-equipped campuses. Taylor’s University offers a myriad of courses in tertiary education, from foundation and diploma, to degree, post-graduate and professional programmes. Students can choose to enrol in courses encompassing fields such as Medicine, Pharmacy, Biosciences, Architecture, Computer Science, Engineering, Quantity Surveying, Law, Business, Communications, Design, Hospitality, and Tourism & Culinary Arts.
The quality of the undergraduate teaching and learning at Taylor’s was acknowledged when it garnered a ‘Tier 5: Excellent’ rating in the Rating System for Malaysian Higher Education (SETARA) by the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia in all four audit exercises. Taylor’s University is ranked at no. 150 in Asia in the QS Asia University Rankings 2018, and listed in the top 1 percent of universities in Asia. Taylor’s University was also awarded 5-Star rating in five (5) categories of the QS Stars Rating. Taylor’s University was also recognised as the number 21 university in the world for Hospitality & Leisure Management by QS World University Rankings by Subject 2018. Most recently, Taylor’s was listed in the top 2% universities in the world by QS World University Rankings. These achievements are important milestones for Taylor’s, in line with its aim of becoming one of Asia’s leading universities.
Taylor’s has also received numerous recognitions locally and internationally from professional bodies such as the CDIO Initiative (Conceiving, Designing, Implementing, Operating), National Academy of Engineering in the USA and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) to name a few.
Taylor’s continues to play a strong role in developing Malaysia’s human resource capital, and boasts a 100,000-strong alumnus, many of whom have become leaders in their respective fields.
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