It was a historic week at Taylor’s University, with the launch of Malaysia’s First Food-Environment Policy Index (Food-EPI). This Project finds the need to improve health through strengthening food promotion, food labelling, food composition, food retail and food price policies. The findings released on Monday (23rd July 2018) highlight that the overall Malaysian food environment policies were already in place. Their implementations were not highly rated compared to international benchmarks. With that, the Food-EPI recommends stricter policies to restrain unhealthy food and beverage marketing directed at children’s setting and media.
The Food-EPI was conducted through the International Network for Food and Obesity/ NCD Research, Monitoring and Action Support (INFORMAS) collaborating with 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). The Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) was funding this project involving Malaysia, and Vietnam with Thailand as a comparator.
Dato’s Dr. Hj. Azman bin Hj. Abu Bakar, Deputy Director-General of Health (Public Health), Ministry of Health lead the Food-EPI launch. Associate Professor Dr. Anthony Ho, Pro Vice-Chancellor Research & Enterprise, Taylors University; and Prof. Dr. Bariah Mohd Ali, Dean, Faculty of Health and Sciences, National University of Malaysia accompanied Dato’s Dr. Hj. Azman for the launch. In addition, Prof. Dr. Tilakavati Karupaiah the Principal investigator for the Food EPI Project (SRI PRofessor Taylor’s) was also present, alongside Prof. Emeritus Dr. Mohd Ismail Noor (Researcher, Taylor’s University), Assoc. Prof. Dr. Bridget Kelly (Research Team, University of Wollongong), Prof. Dr. Heather Yeatman (Advisor, University of Wollongong) and Mr Ng see Hoe (Research Fellow, Taylor’s University).
The Food-EPI assessment looked at food environment policies and their infrastructure support from 13 Ministries. A panel of 26 local and independent public health experts from academia, non-governmental organizations and professionals provided ratings against international best practices and set priority recommendations to stimulate strategies to close the gap in policy implementation. Prof. Karupaiah’s 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’s Advisor, Emeritus Prof. Dr. Mohd Ismail Noor, from the Faculty of Hospitality, Food and Leisure Management, indicated that the introduction of effective preventive policies in ensuring healthier food is important, but equal emphasis should be given on the implementation of these policies in a cohesive and collaborating manner across all government agencies, food producers, operators and other stakeholders.
In conjunction with the Launch of Food-EPI , The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences also held a Seminar: Advocacy for Sustainable, Equitable and Healthy Food and Nutrition Systems. While the prevailing obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases encumbrance worldwide is not unknown to Malaysia, a strong public health advocacy is needed to champion changes to the food systems to favor public good. There were 3 luminaries with 3 thoughts provoking topics to encourage interactive debate among academics, postgraduate students, and the public about the role of advocacy in food, what it is, and how to use it more effectively for the public interest.
All 3 luminaries shared their expertise on championing a healthy food policy intervention in creating a healthy food and nutrition system. Prof. Dr. Heather Yeatman from the Foodways Research Initiatives; University of Wollongong, shared her experience on the Food and Nutrition Advocacy in Australia – what has been learnt and where is the next step for this pending issue. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Bridget Kelly from the School of Health & Society, Faculty of Social Sciences; University of Wollongong, spoke on the global initiatives to support the development of healthy food environments in our everyday life. Besides that, Prof. Wan Abdul Manan Wan Muda addressed the double burden of malnutrition in Malaysia specifically the drives and the appropriate policy response in order to curb this predicament. Prof. Wan is a visiting Senior Fellow at Khazanah Research Institute. He was also a Professor of Nutrition and Public Health at Universiti Sains Malaysia.
The seminar was segmented into topic enlightenment sessions and an open forum session ensued for the audiences’ active engagements with the luminaries. Emeritus Prof. Dr. Mohd Ismail Noor piloted the seminar as chairperson panel. Prof. Dr. Tilakavati Karupiah was the Seminar Director, and Dr. Wong Eng Hwa, the Seminar Coordinator. The road map to create a healthy food environment is to prioritize policy actions not just for the Malaysian Government, but also to all governments worldwide.
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