While nutritional deficiency is less prevalent today, nutrient intake is still not up to mark in many parts of the world, said Taichi Inui, regional manager for Nutrition Science and Advocacy APAC at DSM.
Intake levels was a key topic addressed by the firm at its Bright Kids Nutrition Conference held last month in New Zealand, where Taichi presented the topic “China: Entering a New Era of Nutrition Transition in Children.”
The conference discussed the forces shaping dairy, food, beverage, and supplements for children in Oceania and China.
To increase nutrition intake, he told NutraIngredients-Asia that there was a need to explore the different ways in delivering key nutrients, instead of adopting a one size fits all approach.
“When it comes to improving nutrition for both young children and the general population, the issue now is how to optimise health rather than addressing nutritional deficiency.
“In many countries, we are entering an era where nutritional deficiency is not as prevalent as it used to be. However, there is a gap between current nutrient intake levels and that of the optimal level.”
He said that policy makers, academics, and companies must acknowledge that “the amount of nutrients we are putting into our body is not the optimal level according to scientific evidence.”
There is also a need to consider the context and the level of economic development of different countries.
“Educating about dietary intake in lower income countries only will not address the gap… We need to be more creative on how these necessary nutrients can be provided, looking more deeply at the vitamins, the food source, and the options available in terms of sourcing sustainably.
“It is a delicate balance of health, nutrition and sustainability that must be considered when it comes to the equation of affordability.”
On the other hand, he said that there was a need to consider adjusting the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) levels.
Citing the example of Japan, he said there has been a recent RDI increase in vitamin D from 5.5 micrograms/day to 8.5 micrograms/day for adults.
However, he noted that the level was still very low compared to the level suggested by scientific evidence, which is 15-20 micrograms/day.
Nutrition status in different countries
Within APAC, different early life nutrition challenges exist, and more economically-developed countries are not free from the problems, Taichi said.
In general, a major challenge lies in meeting the micronutrient requirements in the first 1,000 days of an infant’s life.
Analysing the nutrition profile in Oceania, he pointed out that there is a lack of micronutrient intake, such as DHA, iron, and vitamin A.
“Oceania is an example of a developed region that nevertheless still faces challenges. Specifically, there is an issue of hidden hunger, or in other words, inadequate micronutrient intake.
“Amongst children in Australia, there are distinct nutritional challenges with dietary gaps that include DHA, iron, vitamin A, choline and vitamin D with intake levels below those recommended by experts to meet demands during early childhood.”
Elsewhere, in China he said that undernutrition was a major threat to children’s health in poor rural areas, while in urban China, the slowing down of linear growth and the rise of obesity were becoming more common.
In India, Indonesia, Laos, and Myanmar, he said that there was a higher proportion of children with an inadequate nutritional status, which could in turn lead to impaired physical and mental development.
There are also different nutrition problems associated with different life stages.
He noted that micronutrient deficiency in the first 1,000 days of an infant’s life was a major challenge in APAC.
Early life nutrition is crucial as it is associated with risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, in immune function and allergy risk, in bone health, and in cognitive, neuro-motor and behavioural outcomes, he said.
Whereas for children between ages four to 12, he pointed out that undernutrition was the primary concern, since APAC children in this age group were “amongst the highest in having influence over their daily meal choices” and tended to be picky eaters.
Improving early life nutrition
The firm said it has worked with food and beverage firms to improve early life nutrition and tackle malnutrition in a scalable way.
For instance, the firm had co-developed a specialised formulation for Nutrient dense Take Home Ration (THR) and Ready-to-use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) based on UNICEF approved formulation.
The RUTF was able to tackle the problem of severe acute malnutrition for children aged six months to six years.
It is also using supplements and fortification to address nutrition deficiency.
For instance, in India, it supported the launch of a product made from whole wheat, deflated soya and Bengal grand and enriched with the micronutrients Iron, vitamins A, C, B1, B2, calcium, and folic acid for women and children aged three to 36 months.