Asia’s Rising Affluence Brings Fresh Nutrition Challenges

William M. Rahn, Senior Vice President and Managing Director,
Herbalife Asia Pacific

Over the last two decades, Asia has witnessed tremendous changes, including increasing affluence and the rise of a burgeoning middle class. While these developments are welcomed overall, the changes have also been accompanied by a troubling trend towards increased obesity, arising from more sedentary lifestyles coupled with poor diets packed with too many calories.

Adding to the concerns about obesity, populations in several Asian countries are also ageing fast. All these factors have resulted in fresh nutrition challenges which need to be addressed urgently. Fortunately, growing numbers of people are now seeking better nutrition, and this will be key to tackling obesity whilst helping people live long and rewarding lives.

A recent World Bank report noted that the East Asia Pacific has seen large movements of people into cities, as countries that were poor a generation ago successfully integrated into the global value chain. With the Asia Pacific population growing and consumers become increasingly affluent, there is a growing group of health conscious consumers who place greater emphasis on healthy active lifestyles, driving demand for health and wellness products such as nutrient supplements. Indeed, Euromonitor has forecast that the Asia Pacific will be the key driver for growth in the Health and Wellness industry, with a projected increase from 20% of global sales in 2002 to 31% in 2018.

Similar trends are evident in Malaysia, where more people are beginning to realise the importance of good nutrition and a healthier lifestyle, amid growing concerns over obesity. A 2013 study by UK medical journal The Lancet found that nearly 45% of Malaysian men and almost half of women are overweight or obese, compared to global rates of around 30%. In fact, Malaysia ranks as the “fattest” country in South-East Asia, according to a recent Oxfam International report.

Hence, while obesity has until recently been seen to be chiefly affecting affluent western nations, it has now become a global epidemic, including across Asia. Several countries in the Asia Pacific are predicted to see some of the world’s fastest growth in obesity rates between 2010 and 2020. This in turn means rising levels of diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and other lifestyle diseases. According to a National Health and Morbidity Survey, already some 2.6 million adults in Malaysia have diabetes, a figure which is expected to spike to 4.5 million in 2020.

One reason for obesity spreading in Asia is that people are more inactive, with too little time outdoors, too much time sitting, perhaps watching television, playing video games or chatting via the Internet. Nor does it help that, with famine once common, there may be perceptions that if you’re not at least a little plump you must be poor. Compounding the problems, fast food, candies and soft drinks are becoming ever more widespread.

As waistlines expand, so too are populations aging, in tandem with a global trend that has seen the proportion of the world’s population aged over 60 rise from 8% in 1950 to over 10% in 2000, with the figure set to double by 2050.

Yet there is another crucial trend that makes me optimistic regarding the future of health in this region, including Malaysia. Across the Asia Pacific, growing numbers of consumers are aiming to eat better and exercise more, in order to boost their health and maximize their chances of staying fit and well long into old age.

Herbalife is a key player in the Health and Wellness industry, and we are helping drive this trend through becoming increasingly involved in tackling the Asia Pacific health issues, notably obesity and aging. We strongly advocate balanced nutrition and promote the benefits of adopting a healthy and active lifestyle. Our nutrition science based solutions can help people to control their weight, such as by replacing one meal a day with a protein shake.

In October 2014, we boosted Asia Pacific representation on the Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board, with the newest member being WangJae Lee, Ph.D., M.D, a Korean expert in immunology. In April and October 2014 several of these nutrition and health experts raised public awareness and led educational programs on balanced nutrition and healthy active lifestyle in 15 countries across the region, as part of Herbalife’s Asia Pacific Wellness Tour initiative.

I believe such initiatives will play significant roles in educating the public on boosting mental and physical health, and I am passionate about ensuring we do our very best to help Asia Pacific consumers including Malaysians to look good, feel good, and enjoy long, rewarding lives.

Rahn is based in Tokyo, with responsibilities for all Herbalife business in 15 countries in the Asia Pacific. Fluent in Japanese and having lived and worked in Japan for 20 years, Rahn brings a balance of Asian and U.S. cultures to the company. Rahn received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Japanese Studies from Yale University.

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