How come a private company is funding national nutrition surveys in Asia?

I was surprised to read a report in that a private company is about to conduct an enormous—and undoubtedly very expensive—study of the nutritional status of children in Southeast Asia.

The study will collect data from more than 16,000 children aged 12 and under in four countries:

  • Dietary profiles and nutrient intake assessment, including food intake, bone density and cognition.
  • Iron status, vitamins, lipid profile and blood pressure.
  • Body composition and physical activity, including measurements on weight, height and hand grip strength.

The company is doing this in partnership with institutions in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Why would a private company embark on a project like this? The company is FrieslandCampina, a Dutch firm specializing in dairy products:

“We provide people around the world with all the good things milk has to offer, with products that play an important role in people’s nutrition and well-being.

Our product range: baby and infant food, milk-based drinks, cheese, milk, yoghurts, desserts, butter, cream, milk powder, dairy-based ingredients and fruit-based drinks.

As the company explains, “We aspire to help people move forward in life with our dairy nutrition, and are committed to helping our consumers maintain and improve their nutritional well-being with the goodness of milk.”

I’m willing to predict that these studies will show that kids in Southeast Asia would be a lot healthier if they drank more milk. And will find reasons to dismiss concerns that lactose intolerance is the norm in Asian populations over the age of five or so.

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Dr. Marion Nestle

Marion Nestle is Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and Professor of Sociology at New York University. Her degrees include a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition, both from the University of California, Berkeley.

She is the author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism and What to Eat.

Her most recent book is Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine, published by University of California Press in 2008.

You can read her Food Politics blog here:


Please let us know what you think about this article. All comments will be moderated before being posted publicly.


  1. says

    Dear Marion (if I may),

    I happen to have engaged the company, when it was called Campina Melkunie. I used their expert services on an EU development project in the then newly independent Baltic States.
    The company assessed animal feed and bacteriological content of dairy products produced in Latvia, Estonia and the St. Petersburg region. Their research helped me to define the extend of European funding required to upgrade to EU standards.
    It could be they are doing something similar in S.E. Asia but in a different context – possibly on behalf of the Asian Development Bank or European Commission (EuropeAid).

    The Netherlands has, as you will remember a long (colonial) connection within Asia, especially Indonesia – Campina may have been selected for that reason, receiving consulting fees from EU or WB sources.

    p.s. like your posts, thank you

    Kind Regards

    Robert van Es

  2. Anonymous says

    I am finding on the computer that our food has many road blocks to good nutrition inclouding the death of our enzymes in food by cooking, waxing our fruit, drying with high heat, preservatives, irideation, hydrogenized oils,cabinated drinks.
    no wonder we are getting these diseases. Lack of good enzymes causes our food to be improperly digested and fementation and cantadida takes over and every cell in our body has to put up with this. I am calling on someone to pleas make a statement here. I want good food but there is so mush tampering going on how can that hapen.

  3. Lori says

    I don’t know anything about this company, but I do know that what I read on Food Navigator, Nutraingredients, and the like is all about food fortification. Companies are looking to make a fortune on fortifying food with a variety of “nutrients” including calcium, D3 vitamin K, omega-3’s etc. Doing this kind of a study will give them insight into what nutrients might be missing and how they can profit from filling in the gaps. The problem is that these nutrients are generally synthetic, not naturally occuring. There’s alot of stuff that can be added to milk, but we need to learn that the old saying “you can’t fool mother nature” is really a warning to be heeded.

  4. Anonymous says

    Dear Dr. Marion Nestle,

    Do you really think that lactose maldigestion is a barrier for the Asian population to drink milk? Reading the recent NIH statement of lactose intolerance, I came to a conclusion that it is not. Most lactose maldigesters can tolerate a single dose of up to 12 grams of lactose (~1 cup of milk). Besides, we should not forget that:
    – lactase non-persistance is not equal to lactose intolerance. Only a part of the people with lactase non-persistance will develop symptoms of lactose intolerance after consuming certain amount of lactose. Most of Asian people have lactase non-persistance, but not everyone of them has lactose intolerance.
    – if consumed together with other food, lactose-containing food is better tolerated.
    – adaptation to continual lactose consumption.

    The problem of lactose intolerance is exaggerated. Anyhow, dairy companies would welcome this exaggeratin, as they can sell expensive low-lactose or lactose-free products which are not necessary for customers who think or are told that they have lactose intolerance.

    Kind regards,
    a nutritionist

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