Thais eat low fruits and vegetables and too much salt, UN says
Policymakers urged to drive vegetables as national agenda to curb non-communicable diseases killing 400,000 Thais every year.
Thai population particularly the young still consume insufficient amount of fruits and vegetables. Following the latest study by Mahidol University’s Institute of Population and Social Research, the average 250g of vegetables consumed each day by Thais, particularly the young are still much lower than the 400g daily consumption recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO)
The level of pesticide contamination in vegetables and fruits, aggressive marketing and unhealthy food, ineffective labelling and easy access to unhealthy food products are key social and commercial determinants seen as the root cause of such unhealthy diet, said Renu Garg WHO Thailand medical officer during the recent UN Food System Summit National Dialogue held via Zoom meeting raised concern over the high sodium level contained in each meal among Thai population.
She also raised concern over high alt intake. The national nutritional guideline recommends 600mg or 0.12 teaspoon of sodium per meal. However, common street foods such as Som Tam and roasted chicken could contain approximately 1,800mg. Instant cup noodle contains about 1,935mg and Tom Yum Kung could have as much as 2,200mg of salt.
“Eating too much salt is a real problem as it could lead to obesity, diabetes and hypertension and the trends are heading in the wrong direction,” Dr Garg said to over 200 participants joining the online meeting.
NCDs are top killers in Thailand. As many as 400,000 deaths are reported every year, equal to one death in every minute.
To promote healthy diets among children, Dr Garg said involved parties should seek ways to improve school meals by increasing vegetable and fruit serving in school meals. Selling sugary drinks in and around schools should be reduced or banned. Regulation on market restriction should also be undertaken to ban inappropriate marketing of unhealthy food and beverages. Public campaign to promote healthy diets should also be carried out.
Fiscal policies on the use of a combination tax and subsidy should be implemented to improve nutrition and transform the food systems. This includes tax on sugar, sweetened beverages and excessive salty food and junk food. A policy on subsidising fruits and vegetables will help reduce prices by 10 to 30%. Dr Garg recommended that a combination of subsidies and taxation would have greater effect and encourage manufacturers to reduce salt while adding more vegetable and fruits contents into products.
Warren Lee, Senior Nutrition and Food Systems Officer at Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), said vegetables and fruits should be more accessible for low-income households.
Since unhealthy diet is a major contributor to premature mortality in Thailand, upstream multi-sectoral action is needed to address these social and commercial determinants. Transformation of food systems from farm to fork will help improve diet and nutrition, protect natural resources, community livelihood and sustainability.
“Improving nutrition requires addressing all stages of food systems horizontally and
vertically where foods come from, in order to make the food systems sustainable. Food systems go well beyond production. It governs safety, diet quality and affordability of foods, nutrition and health outcomes. It also has impacts on environment,” he said
To transform the food systems, Policymakers need to review existing agricultural policies and investment priorities to ensure diversified and nutritious food supply for healthy diets. Food-based dietary guidelines should be developed. Pesticides in vegetable and fruit production should be controlled and reduced.
Inclusive engagement with government sectors, multi-stakeholders from food production to consumption including private sectors, civil society organisations (CSOs) and consumers, is crucial for driving change. Transparent mechanism should be initiated for monitoring and evaluating cost effectiveness throughout all sectors.
Dr Pairoj Saonuam, Assistant CEO, Thai Health Promotion Foundation, said promoting safe, sufficient fruits and vegetables for food is in relevant to the 13th economic and social development plan and should be proposed as a national agenda.
“Food security is the foundation of human security and national security. Sufficient food will bring positive effect to health. Many reports worldwide also emphasised that the importance of fruits and vegetables for health prevention, particularly NCDs,” he said.
In Canada, a decrease in the proportion of Canadians with inadequate consumption of fruits and vegetables by 1% per annum was estimated to save 10.8 billion Canadian dollars in health expenses and productivity loss in the next 20 years. An increase in fruit and vegetable consumption by 1 portion/day was estimated to save up to 9.2 billion Canadian dollars. , thanks to inclusive policies on sufficient consumption of fruits and vegetables, leading to not only reduction of not only NCD risk but also other socioeconomic issues, Dr Pairoj said.
ThaiHealth will also work with Ministry of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (MOAC) to raise public awareness on adequate consumption of fruits and vegetables, promote good health and NCD risk reduction, manage food for health systems, and promote quality and safe food consumption, leading to food security regarded as one of the indicators towards sustainable development.
Rapibhat Chandarasrivongs, Deputy Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, as the national convener, said the national vegetable dialogue and a policy on safe vegetable and fruit consumption would be the key topic when the country participated in the upcoming United Nations Food Systems Summit to be held in New York in September to call on world leaders and agriculture ministers to hurriedly reform a policy on food systems and agricultural sustainability towards sustainable development goals.
MOAC will also lead Thailand to announce the aimed transformation of the national health systems, through five action tracks: Ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all; Shift to sustainable consumption patterns; Boost nature-positive production; Advance equitable livelihoods; and Build resilience to vulnerabilities, shock and stress.