Geographies in Depth

How to tackle malnutrition and obesity at the same time

Masa Kogure
Founder and president, Table for Two International
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Is it possible to solve two contrasting global issues – malnutrition in developing countries and obesity in developed ones – at the same time?

Table for Two is certainly trying. By encouraging people in the developed world to eat healthily, the Japan-based non-profit has served 28 million meals to school-age children in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Myanmar and the Philippines. And the project is still growing. It now has more than 650 funding partners and spans 12 countries across Asia, North America and Europe.

Each time someone buys a healthy TFT meal at a participating restaurant or workplace cafeteria, a percentage of the price is donated to the School Meal Programme, or SMP. The idea is to flatten out the calorie imbalance between developed and developing countries.

TFT made its appearance at just the right time: for a decade, developed countries have been facing obesity and lifestyle-related health problems. Then, in 2007, Japan experienced a growing interest in healthy eating – mainly due to nationwide health screening and an intervention programme called the “metabo law”, which targeted high blood pressure, raised cholesterol levels and excess body fat in Japanese citizens. The TFT concept was a clear match for the new demand for healthier meals.

The School Meal Programme in sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia has been highly effective at alleviating child hunger, but that’s not all it does. Follow-up investigations have found that when children have a full stomach, they concentrate harder and learn better in the classroom. Also, subsidised meals give parents an incentive to send their children to school, which in turn increases attendance levels and reduces overall drop-out rates. This leads to better-educated children, who go on to find higher-paying jobs and, ultimately, a more fulfilling life. It’s a cultural shift that could end the spiral of poverty and improve welfare in the long run.

But while the programmes go from strength to strength, they can’t be sustained without community involvement. Most ingredients for the meals are sourced locally, and parents and teachers are vital in management and supervision roles.

TFT was initiated by the World Economic Forum’s community of Young Global Leaders, and much of its success is down to the continued support it receives from them. Bjarte Reve, for example, put a huge amount of effort into launching the programme at the cafeteria of the Akershus University Hospital in Norway. Meanwhile, Forum events regularly direct the world’s attention to our work; it was at the Forum on East Asia that our new Calorie Offset initiative was announced earlier this year.

Partnering with various sectors (whether private, public or development) TFT hopes to keep tackling the contrasting global issues of hunger and healthy eating until as many people as possible can achieve a happy balance.

Author: Masa Kogure is the founder and president of Table for Two International and a member of the Forum’s Young Global Leader Alumni Community.

Image: A dragonfly lands on a stalk of wheat ready for harvest during sunset on the Canadian prairies near Vulcan, Alberta, September 7, 2011. REUTERS/Todd Korol

This is part of a series of posts marking the 10-year jubilee of the World Economic Forum’s community of Young Global Leaders.

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Related topics:
Geographies in DepthEducation and Skills
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