Named as the ASEAN Nutrition and Food Science Network (ANFSN), the network was launched by the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre (CNRC) – a unit of Singapore’s research institute A*STAR.
Keynote speaker and key organiser, Prof Jeyakumar Christiani Henry, also the director of CNRC, said that the purpose of the initiative was to bring scientists from different disciplines of nutrition and food science to work together.
He told NutraIngredients-Asia that the inaugural meeting would shed light on current research happening in the region and to strategise areas for collaboration for the next 10 years, so as to make regional and global impact.
“This is because the nutritional problems and issues that are in the ASEAN region are very different from the other parts of the world,” he explained.
He pointed out that a problem unique to the region was the co-existence of malnutrition and over-nutrition, where the latter could spiral into diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
Other key organisers of the inaugural network included CNRC's research scientist Dr Sumanto Halder, senior research fellows Dr Keri McCrickerd and Dr Stefan Camps.
Next year, there are plans to include organisers from either Indonesia, Thailand, or the Philippines.
Ultimately, the goal is to have researches from all the 10 ASEAN countries to join the network in a few years’ time, Prof Henry said.
As compared to the West, nutrition research is still a relatively new area in Asia, and Prof Henry said he hoped to better link up the industry and researchers.
“In the US and Europe, nutrition research is already 100 years old. But here, it is about 10 to 15 years at the most, and so we have a long way to go.
“But there are very bright people in Asia and what we need to do is to encourage them.
He also hopes to address the lack of industry and academia engagement in the food science and nutrition space.
“Going forward, my dream is that every food company will have a counterpart researcher from the academia or from agencies such as A*STAR.”
Three factors driving industry growth
Prof Henry pointed out that the attention towards Asia’s food science and nutrition was expected to “grow exponentially” due to three reasons.
First, with the Asian population becoming wealthier, consumers will start to place more demand on the quality of food options available to them.
“In the past, when we do not have purchasing power, we just wanted quantity. Now, it is about quality.”
Second, the focus on food quality is also driven by the middle class, who are now becoming more aware of luxury food options due to media influence.
Third, as the Asian population becomes more health conscious, there is bound to be more focus on the links between food, health, and nutrition.