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Obesity a threat to global food security: DuPont

By Maggie Hennessy , 03-Jun-2014
Last updated the 03-Jun-2014 at 15:04 GMT

Obesity a threat to global food security: DuPont

Nearly three quarters (70%) of countries worldwide improved their food security in the past year, according to data from the 2014 Global Food Security Index jointly presented by DuPont and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). But the global threat obesity poses to a growing worldwide population incited the index to include it as an indicator for the first time this year.

The Global Food Security Index measures 109 countries against 28 food security indicators based on three core issues: availability, affordability, and quality and safety of food. Despite the overall improvement in global food security since the index launched in 2012, developing nations continue to deal with inadequate infrastructure, political risk and food price inflation, while developed nations grapple with adapting to urbanization and the growing prevalence of obesity. This year, indicators were added for both obesity and food loss.

Not just a ‘rich country problem’

Why obesity? Ratna Mukherjea, PhD, associate director of global nutrition for DuPont’s protein solutions arm, told FoodNavigator-USA that obesity represents one of the world’s largest challenges, affecting developed and developing countries alike.

“It’s a common perception that obesity problem of rich,” Dr. Mukherjea said. “There’s the perception that western countries, by virtue of being more developed, have the problems of obesity, while developing nations are most often malnourished. And obesity is a major problem in the US and other developed countries. At the same time, nearly a third of the population in Syria, Mexico and Jordan is obese, which is comparable to US figures.”

Along with obesity comes chronic health conditions ranging from diabetes and metabolic syndrome to heart disease and joint health issues—all of which have significant implications for countries’ healthcare systems and financial welfare.

Still, developed and developing countries face different obesity-related challenges—the former related to an overabundance of foods; the latter related to less nutritionally dense foods being cheaper, Dr. Mukherjea noted.

“But that’s where DuPont comes in. We are strongly positioned from a food ingredient standpoint, with ingredients such as soy protein, polydextrose and soy fibers that are available to meet the challenge, as well as research programs initiated at our two centers of excellence in nutrition,” she said.

Tailoring food solutions to different global markets

Soy protein, which Dr. Mukherjea said can specifically help with weight and obesity by increasing satiety, loss of body fat while maintaining muscle mass, offers a holistic approach toward weight management. Moreover, it’s more widely available in different markets around the world than many other protein sources.

“In Asian markets, soy has been consumed for many years and part of daily diets. It might be available in different forms there versus the US, where we have bars and beverages with soy protein as the primary ingredient. That’s where it becomes important to provide nutritious foods in an appropriate manner to different environments,” she said.

Indeed, while protein bars and protein-enhanced beverages are relevant to the US, Australian and UK markets for their weight management and sports nutrition appeal, these items carry far less appeal in developing markets, which is why DuPont collaborates with local agriculture, food, nutrition and government leaders to address unique food challenges through market-specific food or dietary supplements. Two recent successful examples were in Africa and China.

 “In Malawi, malnutrition is the largest contributor to child death,” Dr. Mukherjea said. “DuPont partnered with local growers, producers and distributors to introduce a nutrient-dense soy protein supplement. To my point, you have to adapt the food to the environment. What’s great is the supplement doesn’t require cooking or refrigeration, but it supports farmers and the country’s economy in addition to being a good food source to citizens.”

DuPont also collaborated with China’s school milk program and New Hope Dairy to create a milk formula to meet children’s nutritional needs while still being tasty. “While we have strong capabilities in bars and beverages in the developed world, we rose to challenge where a different food format was needed.”

Still, in developed markets where grab and go is becoming many consumers modus operandi, the market for bars as healthy snacks or meal replacers is strong. And in the US in particular, beverage is the most promising area of weight management and clinical nutrition.

“In the weight management and clinical nutrition sectors, soy protein is a key part of products on the shelf that are targeting immunity, weight management and heart health. Sports nutrition beverages are also strong in developed markets,” she said. “But bars and beverages are also showing promise in emerging markets like China and India, and other countries that are going towards the format of convenience foods as lives get busier and growing middle class.

“Above all, we want to make sure convenience foods in these various markets are nutritionally dense.”

Additional Food Security Index findings

While every region in the index improved overall compared to the the prior year, Sub-Saharan Africa countries charted the most progress, driven primarily by improvements in political stability and economic growth, despite the food-insecure environment. Scores in Central and South America and Asia Pacific were hurt by reduced diet diversification and decreased public expenditure on agricultural research and development.

Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were added to the index this year. Both countries earned excellent to moderate scores in all indicators except for public expenditure on agricultural R&D and, for the UAE, volatility of agricultural production. (Click here to access the complete index .)

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