SEAMEO RECFON and the Centre for Transformative Nutrition and Health of the International Medical University (IMU) of Malaysia, in collaboration with the South East Asian Nutrition Leadership Program (SEANLP) Alumni, conducted two webinars themed Asian Diets in Combating Non Communicable Diseases on 21 July 2021, and Dietary Patterns and Disease Prevention – Multi Country Experience on 21 October 2021. The webinars targeted nutrition and health professionals, academe, researchers, program implementers, school communities and other related professions in the Southeast Asian region and beyond.

In his opening remarks during the first webinar, SEAMEO RECFON Director Prof. Muchtaruddin Mansyur acknowledged the recent studies on the changes in food consumption patterns and dietary habits of adults, and their effect on nutritional and health related problems such as obesity, diabetes, coronary heart diseases, etc. in Southeast Asia. He attributed these problems are attributed to the rapid urbanization, increased household incomes, and greater dependence on processed food or eating out. “This nutrition transition involves the change from a traditional or agro-based, to a more ‘westernized’ or global diet and lifestyle”, he added. On the other hand, Dr Yang Wai Yew, the Head of Division from IMU opened the second webinar and emphasized the importance of disseminating latest global evidence on diet and diseases using scientific forum.

The first webinar featured Dr Helda Khusun (SEAMEO RECFON/ SEANLP Alumni) who spoke about “Emerging Dietary Pattern of Indonesians”, Prof Norimah A. Karim (IMU/ SEANLP Alumni) on “Dietary Pattern Transition in Malaysia: Are we heading in the right direction?” and Prof Jeyakumar Henry (Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (SIFBI) on “Is Nutrition in a Cul-de-sac: Will modern food technology be its salvation?” In addition, two Doctorate students, namely: Mugambikai Magendiran (Universiti Putra Malaysia) and Dini Ririn Andrias (Universitas Indonesia/SEANLP Alumni) gave 3-minute presentations each about their studies on “Dietary Pattern and Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in Malaysian Young People”, and “Development of Food Based Recommendations for Children aged 12-23 months in Food Insecure Areas in Indonesia,” respectively. This session was moderated by Assoc Prof Mahenderan Appukutty (UiTM/ SEANLP Alumni).

Dr Helda and Prof Norimah highlighted that the transitioning of the food consumption in Indonesia and Malaysia are characterized by more spending on processed and ready-to-eat foods, lower carbohydrate and higher fat contribution to the total calorie intake, higher animal protein consumption in urban and higher wealth index, higher consumption of fritters, sweet and salty foods including sugar sweetened beverages, and low consumption of fruit and vegetables. In addition, a collective understanding emerged around the need of universal food and nutrition policies that embrace subsidies (for healthier food items) and taxations (for less healthier foods) for ensuring pro-health food environments. Prof Jeya proposed an integration of collective Southeast Asian expertise to form an internationally recognized forum in food and nutrition that combines biology, behavior, and food sciences for improving the health and well-being of millions in the region.

The first webinar attracted 145 participants from Brunei, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and Yemen. The recorded session of the webinar was uploaded on SEAMEO RECFON’s YouTube Channel which has been viewed by 903 people as of 23 November 2021.

The second webinar eschewed the reductionist approach of viewing single foods or nutrients and their link to diseases. This minimalistic approach ignores the complex interactions of the foods that go into making diets. To address these concerns, methods in nutritional epidemiology have evolved to evaluate diets holistically and qualitatively by studying dietary patterns. This webinar examined the perspectives from Australia, Indonesia, and United Kingdom on what and how to eat to prevent diseases. This webinar presented three speakers, namely: Laureate Prof Clare Collins (University of Newcastle, Australia); Dr Umi Fahmida (SEAMEO RECFON/ SEANLP Alumni) and Prof Janet Cade (University of Leeds, United Kingdom). The webinar also presented two doctoral students Dr Nik Nur Izzati (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) and Dr Witri Ardini (Universitas Indonesia). This session was moderated by Prof Dr Norimah Abdul Karim (IMU/ SEANLP Alumni).

Prof Collins discussed the role of dietary patterns in body weight management among children. She presented a systematic review of literatures on the effect of improving diet quality and its implication on body weight management in children. She emphasized the need for providing specific evidenced food-based guidelines such as improving fruit and vegetable intake in weight loss interventions and the need to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions using validated tools and measurements. Dr Umi shared on the use of linear programming to optimize food-based recommendation for disease prevention and elaborated on how certain changes such as increase in dark green leafy vegetable and fish intake are easier than reducing fried foods in the Indonesian context. Prof Janet Cade unlocked the existing evidence on whether diet can prevent cancer. She identified limitations in existing evidence linking diet and disease and the use of new technologies to improve study design and data quality. Dr Nik Nur Izzati’s 3-minute presentation was titled “Successful agers in Malaysia: What do they eat? “ and Dr Witri Ardini’s presentation was titled “Effect of variation in taste receptor genes on macronutrient intake: studies on TAS1R2 rs35874116 and TAS2R38 rs713598 in Indonesian population”.

The second webinar was attended by over 300 participants from Southeast Asian countries, Europe and the Middle East. The recorded session of the webinar was uploaded on IMU’s YouTube Channel and has been viewed by 59 people within a month after the webinar.

The webinars are part of the current partnership agreement between SEAMEO RECFON and IMU which was signed in 2019.