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New research could hold the key to tackling global crisis of malnutrition

Press release issued: 15 December 2021

UK and China embark on ambitious research to simultaneously prevent obesity and under-nutrition.

The University of Bristol is today (15 December) launching an ambitious research project which promises to address the common drivers of both obesity and under-nutrition in China and Southeast Asia.

Malnutrition is the leading cause of disease and mortality globally in Southeast Asia and carries substantial social and economic burdens.

The multi-nation project: Systems Actions to Malnutrition in All Its Forms in Chinese and Southeast Asian Cities – Developing Double Duty, Population-Level Interventions (SYSTAM CHINA-SEACS) is funded by the Medical Research Council in the UK and will be led by Dr Bai Li at the University of Bristol.

Through this world-first initiative, Dr Li plans to demonstrate that by developing systemic solutions to tackle under nutrition, governments and policy-makers can also prevent obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, diabetes and stroke.

This approach is known as double-duty, and involves identifying interventions, programmes and policies that can simultaneously reduce the burden of both undernutrition (including wasting, stunting and micronutrient deficiency or insufficiency) and overweight, obesity or diet-related NCDs.

The study will be piloted in the Chinese city of Fang Cheng Gang, which has been designated an international medical innovation city by President Xi Jinping and is the permanent host of the China-ASEAN Nutrition forum.

Dr Li said: "It is a privilege to have the opportunity to work with China Guangxi and Fang Chang Gang local authorities, world-leading academics and other partners, to demonstrate the power of a systems approach to improving population nutrition. Our world-first research will build empirical evidence for and practical understanding of this new approach, so policy-makers and researchers in Asia and other parts of the world can better address the double burden of malnutrition."

Local decision makers will own the process of intervention development and form local ‘delivery Action Groups’ to maximise feasibility, impact and sustainability. The aim is to close the gap between intervention development and delivery, allow a more co-ordinated use of existing resources and introduce a new way of working. Researchers will report practical lessons learnt in Fang Cheng Gang to policy makers of 11 SEA countries with a vision to scale up the work in this region.

The world’s leading experts on nutrition, obesity and food policy will celebrate the launch of the pioneering initiative on Wednesday 15 December, hosted by the University of Bristol. Speakers include Dr Gauden Galea, WHO Representative in China; Dr Pinhu Liao, Director General of China Guangxi Health Commission; Mr Wei Xu, Deputy Mayor of Fang Cheng Gang City; Dr Mei Lin, Director of Guangxi Center for Disease Prevention and Control and Professor Yunfeng Zou, Dean of School of Public Health, Guangxi Medical University.

Professor Phil Taylor, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at the University of Bristol, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for the University of Bristol to work with colleagues in China and alongside the world’s leading experts on malnutrition, on what is a truly ground-breaking project. Undernutrition and obesity together represent the biggest global cause of disease and mortality. We often talk about pioneering research but this study has the potential to have a significant impact on the double-burden of malnutrition and improve the health and living conditions of billions of people.”

Dr Mei Lin, Director of Guangxi Center for Disease Prevention and Control, main collaborating organisation, said: “Multi forms of malnutrition exist in Guangxi. We hope to improve these seemingly different malnutrition issues through the implementation of this project and the application of the world's most cutting-edge systems concepts and technologies in public health. Meanwhile, we hope to take this opportunity to further deepen the cooperation mechanism with the WHO and the University of Bristol in the field of public health, vigorously improve the capacity of public health services and improve the health of people living in Guangxi.”

Professor Yunfeng Zou, Dean of School of Public Health at Guangxi Medical University, said: “For the School of Public Health of Guangxi Medical University, this is a great opportunity to learn from, exchange and cooperate with leading international experts in nutrition and public health. The implementation of this project is very conducive to improving our scientific research capabilities, expanding our international horizons, improving the nutrition and health intervention mechanism in Guangxi and contributing to the health of Guangxi people and the sustainable development of the society.”

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