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How to get young Thai people to eat healthier, according to UNICEF

UNICEF turned its gaze upon Thailand earlier this week, as it brought young people together to co-create and launch the ‘Fix My Food’ campaign to promote healthier food environments for children in the region. What does this look like? And how do we get kids to eat less street side Som Tam and more fresh Som-O? We sat in on a panel at Bangkok’s The Food School and took notes.

There’s no denying that the East Asian region is renowned for its vibrant food culture. Thailand especially is revered for its street food culture in particular, often being a highlight for tourists from abroad, and even the subject of several food documentaries on Netflix. In a finer dining realm, with each year that passes, there are even more restaurants from Thailand mentioned in the Michelin Guide, as we are quickly catching up to our friends in the region.

Nevertheless, whilst we are definitely keen to eat, this doesn’t mean that we are eating in the most healthy and sustainable way. Increasingly, fresh food diets are being replaced by highly processed foods, and drinks packed with sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. This has become particularly evident in the diets of children, and become a key motivator for UNICEF’s ‘Fix My Food’ campaign.

fix my food unicef
Image Credit: Fix My Food/UNICEF

What is the UNICEF ‘Fix My Food’ campaign all about?

Debora Comini, Regional Director, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific, notes that “too many children in East Asia and the Pacific have poor, unhealthy diets that are having a devastating impact on their health and well-being.”

Led by young people from China, Cambodia, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Mongolia, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam, ‘Fix My Food’ saw a special workshop in Bangkok this week. Over two days, young people discussed and brainstormed ideas for how to encourage the youth to make healthier choices. Read on for some of their findings.

Luong Thuy Linh, Miss Vietnam 2019

Social media, education, and the value of story

The use and influence of social media in young people is especially noteworthy and especially impactful when it comes to diets. Whilst it is also a space for unhealthy food marketing, various influencers are using the platforms for good.

Speaking on the panel were two social media influencers: Chef Nak, or Ros Rotanak, Cambodia’s first female celebrity chef, and Luong Thuy Linh, Miss Vietnam 2019. Both food influencers stressed the importance of social media in shaping our relationship with food.

As Chef Nak explains, tying a story to our food, and understanding where it comes from, can give greater value to what we choose to put in our body. Where healthy food in Asian countries is often associated with fine dining or distant, unaccessible lifestyles, Chef Nak works hard to break down this misconception by linking local ingredients to local history and culture.

Long Thuy Linh, meanwhile, stressed the value of small acts on social media. She posts what she eats in a day, and shares her healthy recipes with her followers. They’re small acts, but they’re adding a positive influence to the greater conversation, one voice at a time.

Chef Nak

Including the youth in the process

To many, social media can also be informative and even educational when it comes to healthy food. An educated individual can lead to an educated community, yet it’s important to actively involve the individual, especially when dealing with young people.

Speaking at the event was also a youth leader from Timor-Leste, Ricardo Valente. He stressed the importance of including the youth in the process of trying to change their eating habits.

Through a cooking challenge and healthy eating learning experience, young people were encouraged to think differently about their diet and dining habits.

Another youth leader at the event, Nini Meng, founder of Nini Global Food Education, outlined her project of community kitchens for children in China, where children can plant, harvest, cook, and share healthy eating lifestyles.

Roland Kupka

Food relationships from the individual to the collective

As the ‘Fix My Food’ campaign definitely got things going and raised awareness about healthier food environments, it is clear that it’s most important to empower young people.

Nevertheless, the movement cannot have impact if it relies on young people alone.

On asking Roland Kupka, Regional Adviser Nutrition at UNICEF, about the role of society on healthier food environments, he stressed that implementing strict policies are key to supporting healthier food environments. These include monitoring marketing especially towards those who are vulnerable (like children), introducing taxes on food and drink that aren’t nutritious, and supporting schools with policies to encourage healthier diets. When it comes to the collective versus the individual, policies like these can ease and support such movements.

Whether Thailand will take the relevant steps or not remains to be seen. So long as the conversation was sparked at The Food School earlier this week, at least a few of us thought twice about our dinner that night.

How to get young Thai people to eat healthier, according to UNICEF

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