Author: FHP Admin
Source: Bangkok Post 2013 January 16; 2.
Consumers could grow more unhealthy under the Asean Economic Community (AEC) as imported junk food will be more accessible, academics warn.
The AEC, which will include Thailand, takes effect in 2015. A freer flow of food products between Asean member nations under the AEC would probably change people's diets for the worse, David Stuckler of the University of Cambridge told a Bangkok conference.
An increase in free trade agreements worldwide has been associated strongly with a rise in the consumption of unhealthy food, Mr Stuckler said.
Low- and middle-income countries, including Thailand, have been consuming much higher amounts of junk food, said the research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Speaking at a meeting on Food and Nutrition Policy for the Health Promotion Programme yesterday, Mr Stuckler said Mexico experienced a rapid rise in soft drink consumption after the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement took effect. The percentage of obese Mexicans over the age 15 is now more than 69%, he said.
The government is being pressured to allow more imports in various free trade negotiations, including talks with the European Union which could begin early this year.
The government also flagged an interest in talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact when Barack Obama visited Thailand in November last year. Anne Marie Thow, from the Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney, said free trade changes what kinds of food people buy and eat.
Freer trade in Central America resulted in an increase in imports of snack foods such as chocolate, Ms Thow said.
Increased access to more imported junk food has increased the amount of fat, salt and sugar in people's diets here, she said.
She said few nations have introduced policies to improve people's diets, and she called on members of the TPP and AEC to enact policies to protect food security and promote healthy diets.
But Visith Chavasit, director of the Institute of Nutrition at Mahidol University, said the AEC's launch would not cause much harm to the public's eating habits because Thailand trades large amounts of food with partners outside the region.
Thailand's food industry would probably cause more harm to others within Asean, because Thai investors are more likely to expand their businesses into other Asean countries, he said.