UNICEF is concerned that traditional healthy fresh foods are being replaced by an increasing consumption of highly processed “junk” food and drinks which are full of sugar, salt and unhealthy fats.

Young people who demand healthier food environments in East Asia and the Pacific have worked with UNICEF to co-create and launch a campaign called “Fix My Food”. The programme will be implemented in eight countries, including Cambodia.

UNICEF said in its recent statement that food systems in East Asia and the Pacific, known for its diverse and vibrant food culture, is changing rapidly.

The statemenet added that traditional healthy fresh food diets were being replaced by an increasing consumption of highly processed junk foods.

“Children across the region are growing up in food environments that promote the sale and consumption of these ‘junk’ foods and drinks, rather than healthier alternatives. As a result, more than one in three adolescents are drinking at least one sugary drink a day; more than half consume a fast-food once or more a week; and less than half, are eating enough fruit and vegetables every day,” it continued.

Debora Comini, regional director for UNICEF East Asia and Pacific said today’s children and young people are surrounded by junk-food marketing wherever they go: online, on their way to school, college or university, on television, and even while standing in the checkout-line of the grocery store.

“The result is 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. It is about time that we changed this,” she added.

She said UNICEF have been working closely with governments and partners to introduce policies and legislation to curb the increase in marketing of unhealthy food and drink. This included mechanisms like bans on the advertising and sale of unhealthy foods in and around schools, clear front-of-pack nutrition labelling, and taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages.

“To further promote the need for healthier food environments, UNICEF is supporting the ‘Fix My Food’ campaign led by young people to raise awareness of the need to create healthier food environments in China, Cambodia, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Mongolia, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam,” said Comini.

In late February, a large group of young people from the participating countries – together with celebrities and influencers –were part of a two-day Bangkok workshop to create the programme. They brainstormed ideas and identified potential partners that could help them to roll out the campaign in their respective countries.

Ros Rattanak, a Cambodian celebrity chef who attended the workshop, said that preserving, developing and promoting traditional Khmer cuisine as one of the world’s most remarkable cultinary traditions, was also important.

“Food is much more than just what we eat. It is an essential part of our culture, our families and our communities. I am happy to support these young champions, to preserve, protect and ensure that our food environment is equally accessible and benefits all,” she added.

With young people leading the “Fix My Food” campaign and support from celebrities and influencers, UNICEF hopes to create awareness on the impact of the changing food environment to the lives of children, and the urgent need for governments, the private sector and civil society to take collective action to build a healthier food environment across the region.

“As part of UNICEF’s work to mobilise and empower young people to take action, this initiative will be supported by UNICEF country offices and partners,” the statement said.