Food fortification for better health and nutrition

The United Nations has called for urgent action on the impact of COVID-19 on malnutrition, which threatens the livelihoods of millions worldwide. Fortification is known as a public health strategy to improve the nutrition status of populations, but the acceptance of this technology is of various pace. Anand Sundaresan, regional vice-president human nutrition and health, DSM Nutrition Products, tells more to Food & Beverage Asia.

Can you elaborate more on the Nutrition Improvement Programme, and how will this initiative support the building of a food system that feeds and nourishes the growing population?
Anand Sundaresan:
Within our Nutrition Improvement Programme in Asia, we work closely with partners including UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WEP), FAO, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), in addition to local governments and organisations to increase access to safe, healthy and affordable solutions, such as fortification of staple foods and development of micronutrient powders which can optimise the nutritional levels of our communities.

For example, in Indonesia, we are working with the Indonesia Bureau of Logistics (BULOG) to make fortified rice accessible to the local population to reduce micronutrient deficiencies. Similarly, in countries like Cambodia and Vietnam, amongst others, we have targeted supplementation programmes through the distribution of micronutrient powders, fortified blended foods or lipid-based nutritional supplements to reduce the impact of malnutrition and hidden hunger.

In doing so, we believe that such interventions will improve nutrition levels, and enable a healthy and functioning society for all.

How do you see food fortification, as a process, fit into today’s food system, and what are the challenges and economic incentives on food fortification?
Sundaresan:
Focusing on nutrient-rich foods and a well-balanced diet is the best way to obtain desired nutrients. However, this may not always be possible, especially for vulnerable populations who may be unable to access a diversified diet and the recommended levels of micronutrients. This can put them at risk of disease and infections, posing a significant health risk to their communities, who may not have access to essential healthcare.

Food fortification of staple foods such as wheat flour and rice are recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an effective, scalable and low-cost solution to improve levels of nutrition at a societal level, particularly amongst immune health and protecting against future health risks.

Although the efficacy of food fortification in addressing malnutrition is widely recognised, efforts in scaling fortification in rice have not kept up with the rising levels of malnutrition in the region. Recognising the role fortification can play, we have an ongoing partnership with the WEP, amongst other humanitarian organisations, to end malnutrition. The partnership has supported 39.4 million people in 2017 alone, a figure equivalent to 1% of the global population.

The full interview is published on the latest edition of Food & Beverage Asia Oct/Nov 2020. To continue reading, click here.