Adapting to changing urban nutritional needs

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With over 50 percent of the world’s population predicted to live in urban areas by 2020, new challenges specific to urban populations arise. 
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WITH over 50 percent of the world’s population predicted to live in urban areas by 2020, new challenges specific to urban populations arise. This trend toward urbanization in both developed and developing countries brings with it many new challenges for industry, government and city planners to address. This is why the “Healthy China 2030” plan was created, in alignment with the World Health Organization and the United Nations’ commitment to tackle the challenge of malnutrition. It mandates greater social attention to health and is aimed at ensuring sustainable urbanization in China for positive benefits.

Nutrition transition

The more sedentary lifestyle characteristics of city dwellers trending toward lower-energy jobs are ushering in a nutrition transition, with an imbalanced nutritional intake. In fact, the most common diseases of Shanghai residents in 2013 clearly showed an upward trend in those related to being overweight, and poor dietary habits have been conclusively linked to conditions and diseases prevalent in mega-cities.

In addition, the growing number of older persons also bring accompanying challenges with a major impact on the local and national economy. Shanghai’s registered population of people over 60 was around 4.58 million at the start of the year, almost a third of the total — an ageing population that is more susceptible to chronic diseases which can negatively impact an individual’s quality of life.

While nutrition is only one factor affecting overall health, it is one of the most fundamental. Danone’s mission is to “bring health through food to as many people as possible” and our efforts remain firmly on ensuring that local communities have access to healthy food and drinks.

At Danone, we believe social collaboration between government, industry, academia and civil society is key to identifying and implementing effective solutions to address the challenge. By simultaneously engaging in community outreach and education initiatives on the role of good nutrition at every stage of life, the government and other stakeholders can begin to change nutritional habits and lifestyles, ensuring health considerations are taken into account with any future development policy.

Innovative ways to tackle the challenge

Good nutrition habits should be integrated throughout an individual’s life cycle. It starts from birth, where the first 1000 days are critical in laying the foundation for healthy development. The irreversible — but utterly preventable — damage that malnutrition can cause in this period should convince all stakeholders to focus efforts on this issue.

Danone also believes that investing in the nutritional needs of older patients can bring about more immediate positive effects, improving patient outcomes and reducing the burden on the healthcare systems. Danone’s medical nutrition business, Nutricia, has pioneered evidence-based products tailored to meet the nutritional needs of older patients, for instance those suffering from muscle wastage or for the dietary management of early Alzheimer’s disease.

Another approach is to develop care models that help to maintain the autonomy of older persons. In Europe, Danone is working with key stakeholders in countries such as Spain, France, and The Netherlands where the ageing population is creating new challenges for governments, healthcare professionals and families. Danone is co-developing programs with local social businesses as well as healthcare organizations, combining individual nutritional advice and physical training to improve older people’s health and well-being, helping to reduce the risk of accidents due to muscle wastage leading to a loss of independence and hospitalization. These new models of care are contributing to a blueprint for the future to help communities preserve the autonomy and quality of life of older persons with an approach that is cost-effective and inclusive.

Recommendations

The first is the necessity of a greater data transparency. No one actor has the resources and the expertise to fully tackle such challenges, so all partnerships must be built on the foundations of mutual trust.

Products and services should be created with the citizen’s health in mind and based on research and reliable data in an enabling policy environment. Focus should be turned toward the prevention of non-communicable diseases rather than treatment, and relevant policies should be created to enable and support food companies in providing the nutrition communities need.

Public private partnership is essential, between government, industry and NGOs, to raise awareness of the health, social and economic benefits of good nutrition and co-develop new models to combat malnutrition in urban populations.

Social outreach and engaging in youth education to foster good habits is the foundation of prevention, and in modern times digital footprints can be collected and anonymous metadata analyzed to inform future research and development, tailored to each demographic.


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