While the rising number of cases of obesity and type 2 diabetes in the continent are well documented, Dr Jorg Hager, head of the nutrition and metabolic health unit at Nestlé’s Institute of Health Science, said there was still time for Asia to benefit from a more personalised approach to weight management.
“This is something in Asia where you have a chance that we missed in western society when we stopped looking at the individual and kept looking at the average,” he said.
“In Asia you have a long history of looking at the individual in terms of health and medicine, and this is something we need to build on. I also think customers would be receptive to it.”
Speaking at Vitafoods in Hong Kong, Hager said too much time had been invested in extolling the virtues of a one-size-fits-all approach to tackle obesity.
He cited the notion that a high protein, low glycemic index diet could help everyone lose weight as a classic example.
“There are lots of different publications that say protein will help, but for some people it’s probably not so good,” he said.
“Depending on the genetic background, not all individuals will do well on such a diet during weight maintenance. In fact, depending on your genotype, high protein can increase fat mass.
“Just telling everyone to eat more protein is not a solution.”
What is clear, he added, is that there is a lot of evidence to show dietary interventions are very successful in causing weight loss. But it also shows that the long term outcomes are poor because people struggle to keep the weight off.
Right place, right time
“We really need to look at why people can’t achieve weight maintenance,” he said.
“I firmly believe we need to give people the right treatment at the right moment and adopt a personalised approach.”
One option is to harness technology to enable people to identify their targets in a programme that will follow them through their weight management regime.
Nestlé is currently piloting its Nutritional Health Concept, a web/app-based tool to create personalised, realistic objectives for individuals.
“With this app, the individual identifies a goal and processes a range of information – and this is not limited information, it can include genetic variants and so on,” said Hager.
The programme then provides a profile of diet and nutrition recommendations, but crucially they are based on the individual’s tastes.
“It takes in to account things that people usually eat, because there is no point giving them the most healthy thing if they will not eat it. This is at a prototype at the minute for weight management,” Hager said.
He also argued there was a lot of potential for micronutrient systems technology to meet personalised nutritional needs, and “this needn’t be as sci-fi as it sounds.”
For example, Nestlé recently did some work with its Nespresso machine, where instead of using coffee, it created capsules containing a range of personalised nutritional mixes.
“Everything comes back to the fact that a credible strategy to tackle weight management in the 21st century needs to be personalised, based on scientific understanding, and needs to integrate diagnostic tools with tailored nutritional solutions,” he added.