Addressing the double burden of malnutrition in ASEAN

Malnutrition, which encompasses both undernutrition and overnutrition, presents a significant human capital as well as economic development challenge across most ASEAN Member States.A healthy, well-nourished, well-educated and skillful population provides the foundation for a productive life and enables future workers to compete in the dynamic labor markets of digital economies. However, most of ASEAN's lower-income countries face an unfinished agenda with regard to undernutrition. Undernutrition elevates the risk of infant and child morbidity and mortality, increases expenditure on health care and social safety nets, lowers the efficiency of investments in education, and decreases lifelong income-earning potential and labor force productivity, with the potential to be transmitted across generations. Estimates for some ASEAN member states show undernutrition resulting in annual losses of between 2.4 percent - 4.4 percent of GDP Over nutrition compounds the challenges. Over nutrition is posing an increasing challenge to ASEAN, with some countries having high prevalence of obesity and overweight. In the last 35 years obesity prevalence across ASEAN increased over 7-fold, most rapidly in Cambodia, Indonesia, and Lao PDR, where obesity rates have risen more than 10-fold. Childhood overweight and obesity is likewise a growing problem, especially in Brunei, Malaysia, and Thailand where childhood overweight prevalence exceeds 25 percent. Overweight and obesity among ASEAN member states have high direct costs for some countries, for example in Brunei it is 16. Direct health care costs related to treatment of obesity and associated chronic diseases due to obesity as well as indirect costs, particularly from the loss of labor productivity, are expected to increase in many ASEAN countries.