The nutrition pyramid? Let's not forget hidden hunger, says DSM executive

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Credit: DSM
Credit: DSM
Preventative and personalised nutrition brings enormous opportunity but only addresses health needs of a small population segment, warns the president of human nutrition and health at DSM.

The global ingredients major recently outlined its plans to ramp up efforts in the personalised nutrition space​, along with a plethora of industry players and startups, particularly through M&A. 

Jeremy Xu, president of human nutrition and health at DSM, said that whilst this push into personalised nutrition taps into broad needs of an ageing population looking for preventative measures, it has to be balanced with a focus on improving health across the entire population because the majority cannot benefit from personalised nutrition models.

“We need to be mindful. [Personalised nutrition] is still at an early stage and I would say if you look at the whole population as a pyramid, right now because of affordability, only the tip of the pyramid can be addressed,” ​Xu told NutraIngredients.

“...We still have business to take care of to address malnutrition; to help those less privileged parts of the population improve their nutrition. Rather than malnutrition, actually, I would use the term 'hidden hunger' because it addresses the entire population from different economic statuses. Hidden hunger can be about the lack of balance in a diet, for example.”​ 

Potential in nutrition? It's a two-way split... 

Jeremy_Xu_Uganda
Jeremy Xu on his recent trip to Uganda. Credit: DSM.

Xu said the biggest opportunity in human health and nutrition is a “multiple front” that addresses two broader populations.

“On the one hand, the population is ageing and people want to take more control of their health and wellness. Also, because of economical increases in medical expenses, people are looking at preventative solutions and treatment. This is one part of the population – they look for prevention: how can you delay vision loss; how can you improve bone health; how do you reduce obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, all those lifestyle-related health and nutrition issues. And we believe through nutrition you can achieve many goals. So, I see enormous, enormous opportunity for us to use nutrition, of course coupled with other lifestyle learnings,” ​he said.

“Another area is, let's not forget, a huge population in developing countries that struggle to even have adequate basic nutrition in their life.”

Xu said that helping this part of the population remains a significant mission for DSM and industry as a whole.

The United Nations (UN) recently shared its disappointment at the lack of progress towards its goal to eradicate all forms of malnutrition by 2030,​ stating that one in three people remain malnourished and suffer from one or several forms of malnutrition.

An estimated three million deaths every year are caused by malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies and a report published this month by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the USCIB Foundation​ urges the private sector to build on current efforts to address this.

Vitamin D deficiency is one significant part of the global problem, and a recent review conducted by researchers at two Australian universities​ outlines an urgent need to better assess and prevent vitamin D deficiency amongst pregnant women in developing countries, for example.

Xu said his team recently visited Uganda with DSM's long-standing partner Vitamin Angels, a non-profit specialised in working to reduce preventative illnesses in mothers and children under five at risk of malnutrition, to gain insight into the dietary supplement needs of those in need. DSM is partnered with various organisations to work against malnutrition, including UNICEF and the World Food Programme, among others.

“We have a lot of programs and partners we are working with to deliver affordable, convenient and tasty forms, such as supplements, food and ready-to-drink formats. I see huge opportunity for us as a company but also as a nutritional industry. Let's not forget our mission,” ​he said.

Related topics: Science

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