From co-founding a platform for women bankers to pushing for stricter sex-trafficking laws and a day off for foreign domestic workers, Trina Liang-Lin has always been a passionate voice for the civic issues of the day.
Now, the managing director of boutique investment research consulting firm Templebridge Investments wants to bring the importance of food nutrition to the fore through social enterprise Halo Health Asia (HHA), which she started last year with the mission of providing consumers access to accurate and timely food knowledge in order to make better food decisions at every stage in life.
“I experienced the family impact of poor health as a child when both my grandmother and mother passed away from ill health within the same year,” shares Trina. “My grandmother died of diabetes and my mother fought cancer a few times over a few years before she succumbed to it, so my childhood was very much spent in and out of hospitals.”
This month, HHA, an accredited social enterprise under the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise, held its inaugural World Food Future for Women (WFF) conference, bringing together stakeholders such as consumers, nutritionists and scientists as well as business and thought leaders in panel discussions on issues such as combatting the rising threat of diabetes in Singapore, the latest food trends, innovations and developments as well as food sustainability, traceability and labelling. The learnings from the conference will then be consolidated and shared in community hubs such as libraries next year.
According to the International Diabetes Federation, there were 606,000 cases of diabetes in Singapore in 2017, a figure that is likely to hit one million by 2050 if nothing is done about it.
Another shocking fact revealed in a The Straits Times article by Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore: While close to one billion people in Asia face the threat of food shortage, twice the number are overweight or obese.
“So is good nutrition accessible? That’s a pretty complex question,” says Trina of these sobering statistics. “The numbers don’t really prove that good nutrition is accessible, perhaps then nutrition education is the answer. This is where the WFF conference plays a part.”
She adds that the conference, themed Rethink Your Food, was initially supposed to be on the future of food, with no gender focus. Then she discovered in a US study that women control 93 percent of all food consumer purchases and 85 percent of all consumer purchases. The target audience of the conference then became these key decision-makers in family nutritional choices, especially in light of Ministry of Health figures showing that the percentage of mainstream school children who were overweight had increased from 11 percent in 2011 to 13 percent in 2017.
“A child’s nutrition during his or her formative years is extremely important as brain development and taste preferences develop during this time,” says Trina. “It was also an eye-opener for me to see how certain foods helped my mother to heal and recover when she was in cancer remission. Of course, we are hoping that more men will begin to take responsibility for household matters, but this is the stark reality at present.”
Proceeds from the conference will go towards funding HHA’s Food Steps programme, a free food nutrition education programme for primary schools that will be launched in a pilot run of 18 schools starting April, with the aim of reaching all primary schools in five to 10 years. The objective is to complement the current nutrition education in schools and to enhance the food nutrition information given to caregivers. “Fake news is pervasive,” she says, “so accurate and timely information is a necessity for this important topic.”
With this new project, it looks like the days of taking a back seat for the past president of the Singapore Committee for UN Women and the Financial Women’s Association of Singapore are far from her mind.
“I went to a convent school and the selflessness of the teachers and the nuns never failed to amaze me. I still keep in touch with them, just to give myself a sense of perspective of my small place in this world. As cliché as it sounds, I feel duty-bound to make this world, which I will leave one day, a better place.”