IRP Food, Cultures and Health

IRP Food, Cultures and Health

French-Malaysian International Research Project in Social Sciences

IRP Food, Cultures and Health

Prof. Jean-Pierre Poulain



Figure 5 – Automatic Observation of the Dimensions of Social Interaction (Vincarelli et al., 2009a)


The IRP “Food, Cultures and Health” is developed in partnership between the Centre d’Etude et Recherche Travail Organisation Pouvoir (CERTOP) UMR-CNRS 5044, Toulouse, France and the Centre for Research and Innovation in Tourism (CRiT), Taylor’s University, Malaysia. It addresses the transformation of the food system organisation and of the social representations and meanings associated to food during the process of modernization in Southeast Asia countries.

After several years of educational and scientific cooperation with Taylor’s University, the establishment of this LIA marked another milestone of partnership and scientific research between the two universities. It extends and amplifies the work developed under the Chair of Food Studies of Taylor’s Toulouse University Centre (TTUC).


This IRP project is an extension of the LIA Food, Cultures & Health, concluded between France and Malaysia in 2016. It associates the CNRS and the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherche Travail Organisation Pouvoir (CERTOP), University Toulouse – Jean Jaurès (School of Tourism, Hospitality and Food Studies – ISTHIA) with Taylor’s University in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). It is a continuation of Franco-Malaysian academic and scientific cooperation between these two partners. After more than 30 years of pedagogical and scientific collaborations, the creation of this LIA and its continuation with the IRP mark the rise of this partnership and the scientific research carried out there.

The main mission of this IRP is to pool expertise, facilities and material resources to carry out a scientific project to study the links between diet and health from the perspective of Euro-Asian populations. Initially the two focus areas of research are: strengthening the network of “Food Barometers” in Asia and the establishment of “Experimental Restaurants” to study the eating behaviour, based on standardized protocols both in Toulouse, France and in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

main projects of research

Encompasses two main research programmes:

  1. “Dynamic and modernized dimensions of food patterns in developing multi-ethnic societies”. Relying on macro-sociological data collected by Asian Food Barometers to study the consequences of changing food practices on public health (obesity and non-communicable diseases) and food cultures patrimonialization.
  2. “Impact of socio-technological contexts on food practices “, a European-Asian mirrored study through the use of two experimental platforms.

1. Asian Food Barometer

The Food Barometers’ objective is to provide data on socio-cultural contexts of food and eating habits and their developments at a national scale. These elements are particularly useful for sectors of economy and public health. It will analyse combined effects of social factors, such as social status, education level, gender, generation, household size and urbanisation, and it also analyses ethno-cultural aspects of food and its consequences on population’s health.

The Asian Food Barometer addresses three mains scientific topics:

  1. The theories of transition (demographic, epidemiological, nutritional, protein), their evolution and reorganization;
  2. The “compressed modernization” and its consequences on food habits, food cultures and health;
  3. The theories of risk and the way in which the empirical field of the food crises invites to reorganize it by taking better account of the anxieties.

The Asian Food Barometer project started in Malaysia, with the launch of the first “Malaysian Food Barometer” in 2014. A second “Malaysian Food Barometer” was completed in 2018, it included in depth socio-cultural determinants and nutritional analysis. The first partnership on Food Barometers in Asia was with SEAMEO RECFON, Indonesia with work on the “Indonesian Food Barometer”.

The Asian Food Barometer project is carried out in conjunction with several research programmes:

  • Flagship Research Programme Obesity & Health

This programme addresses one of the most important challenges of the Asian societies, that is, the rise of non-communicable diseases that accompany the nutritional transition related to modernization of the population’s food habits. The diet-related health problems in Asia, in particular Malaysia is serious because of the very rapid speed of modernization in this part of the world (compacted modernity). This five years programme will focus on the socio- cultural determinants of “food and nutrition transition” in Asia and will make some concrete propositions to face the challenge and help reduce the economic burden related to rising non-communicable diseases.

1.2. SCRIPT: Socio Cultural and Economic Research in Protein Transition in South East Asia: focus on Malaysia & Indonesia

While the adoption of higher energy intakes and more energy-dense diets appears in the frame of the nutrition transition theory (Drewnowski, Popkin, 1997) to be a “universal” incomes-driven phenomenon, dietary shifts from plant to animal proteins (meat, fish or dairy) are much more dependent on culture, religion, and other country-specific variables. A multidisciplinary research team with expertise in Nutrition, Social Sciences and Public Health has conducted the proposed project.

Study protocol was based on the established Malaysian Food Barometer (MFB) with modifications and adaptations to meet the objectives of the project. The MFB was specifically developed to study aspects of the nutrition transition in the rapidly developing and urbanized countries of Asia and South East Asia. Largely based on social sciences, the MFB provides valuable additional insight to classical nutritional or economic studies (Poulain et al. 2014).

1.3. “Eating out in Asia”

Based on more or less partial information and data coming from heterogeneous sources, one claims often that the level of eating out in Asia is higher than in Europe. And is probably higher also than in most countries of the world, including USA. But due to the lack of comparable data that is produced at a representative level and with the same methodology, it is not possible to document and to objectivise this phenomenon. The repartition of meals between home and outside the home is an important question, because it allows understanding the different contexts, in which the food and eating decisions are taken. The purpose of this research is to fulfil this lake of knowledge, by conducting a multinational survey on the repartition of meals and food intakes in 6 Asian Countries (China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia) and France. This research will also study the socio-cultural determinants of eating out.

The results will be useful in economics to understand the organization of the demand of food market. They will be useful for public health to base the recommendations on real life situations. For research in food studies, the findings are expected to contribute to the description of the food cultures through the place the form of socialization, the modality of socialization and of transmission from one generation to another. In addition, the international design of the survey is allowing the analysis of some of the dimensions of the nutrition transition in the rapidly developing and urbanizing countries of Asia and South East Asia. France was added to the project to allow future comparisons between Asian and South East Asian countries and a European country. The survey has been completed in March 2020 with data collected from countries (China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and France), counting a global sample of 15,000 individuals.


 2. Impact of socio-technical contexts on food practices: Experimental platforms to study eating behaviours in context (OVALIE in France and experimental Restaurant in Malaysia)

The “Experimental Platform” plans to explore in detail the influence of physical and social contexts on eating behaviour among individuals and small groups in different settings (home, hospital room, restaurants, etc.). A suitable space, equipped with automated tools (cameras, microphones) backed up with facial recognition software will be in place to capture real live situations. These observations will help to enrich the scope of eating behaviour based on new types of empirical data such as facial recognition of taste emotions and digital analysis of social interactions.

On the Malaysian side, the Experimental Platform project is carried out in conjunction with several research programmes:

  • Flagship Research Programme Obesity & Health

This programme addresses one of the most important challenges of the Asian societies, that is, the rise of non-communicable diseases that accompany the nutritional transition related to modernization of the population’s food habits. The diet-related health problems in Asia, in particular Malaysia is serious because of the very rapid speed of modernization in this part of the world (compacted modernity). This five years programme will focus on the socio- cultural determinants of “food and nutrition transition” in Asia and will make some concrete propositions to face the challenge and help reduce the economic burden related to rising non-communicable diseases.

  • Partnership Hubert Curien France-Malaysia Hibiscus (PHC Hibiscus) “The Socialization of eating practices in children with Prader-Willi syndrome”

This project focuses on food socialization based on the case of Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS), a complex neurodevelopmental disorder representing major development challenge for children that limits their socialization, especially around food. This project aims to identify the description and understanding of the food socialization of children with PWS in order to contribute to the support systems, improve management and care facilities; it also approaches the pathological study to understand typical situations. The research methodologies that will be used are expert interviews, ethnographic observations of children’s interactions with their families at home as well as observations in a controlled socio-behavioural lab setting. The findings may than be adapted to the public health education and management of food related behaviours within the framework of the prevention of pathologies such as obesity and type 2 diabetes that originate from eating.



  • Coordination : Prof. Jean-Pierre Poulain, CERTOP UMR-CNRS 5044 – Université Toulouse – Jean Jaurès, Toulouse


  • Prof. Ismail Mohamed Noor, CRiT, Taylor’s University, Kuala Lumpur

Associated indonesian partner




French-Malaysian International Research Project in Chemistry


Dr. Marc Litaudon
Prof. Khalijah Awang


Prof. Khalijah Awang with PhD Shelly Gapil Tiamas and Hazrina Binti Hazni. Credits: M. Litaudon

Drying plant after harvesting. Credits: M. Litaudon

Malaysian Plant Collection. Credits: M. Litaudon

Prospecting in dense forest. Credits: M. Litaudon


The LIA “International French Malaysian Natural Products Laboratory”, IFM NATPROLAB, was created on 1 January 2015 for a term of 4-years (2015-2018), and was renewed at the end of 2018, as an International Research Program (IRP) for an additional period of four years (2019-2022). IFM NATPROLAB allowed strengthening a scientific collaboration between Institut de Chimie des Substances Naturelles (ICSN, UPR2301, CNRS) and Phytolab of the Department of Chemistry of the Faculty of Sciences, University Malaya.


In the early 2000s, ICSN-CNRS and University Malaya launched an extensive research program to systematic survey various areas of dense forests of the Malaysian peninsula in order to build a unique collection of higher plants representative of the Malaysian floristic biodiversity. Based on the chemical and biological study of the most pharmaceutically promising species, the main idea is to discover new specialized metabolites that can provide as a starting point for clinical research.

 The research carried out jointly by the two partners is basic research but can find applications in the field of health, in particular by identifying new molecules that are potentially anti-cancer, anti-diabetic or anti-infectious. At the end of this program, we hope to select natural or synthetic molecules, derived from natural models, with physicochemical characteristics and biological properties such that they can integrate the validation processes of preclinical and clinical trials that are lent to drug candidates in the pharmaceutical industry.

    main projects of research

    From 2015 to 2018, under the first mandate of the LIA, the Malaysian plant species Fissistigma latifolium (Annonaceae) and Knema hookeriana (Myristicaceae), as well as Macaranga tanarius, a Southeast Asian species of the family Euphorbiaceae, showed interesting biological properties and were selected for further chemical and biological investigations. Novel terpenoids, stilbenoids and polycetides were isolated and characterized. Of these, inhibitors of proteins that promote the occurrence of certain cancers are the subject of synthetic chemistry programs at ICSN. The study of their biological properties is also being considered. In the field of research of compounds endowed with anti-infectious properties, biological studies are being undertaken at the ICSN and Malaya University on other molecules that have shown interesting properties in inhibiting key proteins in the replication of the dengue virus, making them potential candidates for the treatment of this vector-borne disease. Very recently, studies have also been launched on the search for inhibitors of SARS-CoV-2. Finally, a research program aimed at discovering new anti-diabetic agents was launched in 2019. It focuses in particular on discovering and studying compounds capable of inhibiting certain key enzymes as part of a new approach to blood sugar control.

    These three lines of research, which make up the scientific program of the IRP’s second mandate (2019-2022), are currently being developed concurrently by French and Malaysian students working on their thesis or post-doctorate in France and Malaysia.



    • Dr. Marc Litaudon (ICSN, UPR 2301, CNRS-Université Paris-Saclay)
    • Dr. Fanny Roussi (ICSN, UPR 2301, CNRS-Université Paris-Saclay)


    • Prof. Khalijah Awang (Faculty of Sciences, University of Malaya)
    • Dr. Azeana Zahari (Faculty of Sciences, University of Malaya)

    2ème Conférence Internationale Franco-Malaisienne – IMFSC 2017



    French-Malaysian International Emerging Action in Freshwater shark evolution, climatic change and biostratigraphy in the Cretaceous of Southeast Asia

    Prof. Gilles Cuny

    Dr. Masatoshi Sone


    Dr. Masatoshi Sone on the field in Malaysia in 2017
    © Gilles Cuny

    Tooth of the hybodont Heteroptychodus steinmanni in the Lower Cretaceous of Thailand
    © Gilles Cuny

    Tooth of the Hybodont Hybodus photographed in scanning electron microscopy from the Terminal Jurassic of Thailand
    © Mahasarakham University



    Hybodont sharks represent one of the most successful chondrichthyan lineages of all time. They appeared as early as the Late Devonian and they disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous. On the other hand, the modern-day sharks, or selachimorphs, started to diversify in the Early Jurassic and by the end of the Jurassic, they dominated marine environments. Although the real impact of selachimorph diversification on hybodont evolution is still unclear, there is a neat diversification of hybodonts in freshwater environments during the Early Cretacous, whereas selachimorph sharks remained very rare into such an environment until the disappearance of the hybodonts. This would suggest that hybodonts took refuge in fresh waters during the Cretaceous to escape competition from neoselachian sharks in marine environments.

    Missions and research themes

    The recent discovery of a freshwater hybodont shark fauna from the Lower Cretaceous of Malaysia represents a valuable opportunity to better understand the diversification and spreading patterns of these sharks in Southeast Asia. An important faunal reorganization of these freshwater sharks has been observed between the Barremian and the Aptian and we aim at testing whether this could be linked to the climatic cooling event that geochemical studies have recently identified. A taxonomic revision will also allow enhancing the use of freshwater hybodont sharks as biostratigraphic markers in non-marine environments, as dating and correlation in such environments are notoriously difficult.

    MAIN projects of research

    1. Evolution of freshwater hybodont sharks and climatic changes

    Three different assemblages of freshwater hybodont sharks have been found in northeastern Thailand. The oldest one, the Phu Kradung assemblage, is from the late Jurassic (≈150 Million years ago). Then come the Sao Khua assemblage from the Barremian (≈125 Mya) and finally the Khok Kruat one, from the Aptian (≈115 Mya). More recently, similar assemblages have been found in China (similar to the Khok Kruat one) and Malaysia (similar to the Sao Khua one). Important faunal turn-over are observed between these different assemblages and one of the aims of this project is to determine whether these faunal turnovers are linked to climatic events. In addition, the level of adaptation of hybodont sharks to life in freshwater is still not fully understood. Analysis of stable isotope of fossil shark teeth will allow to identify their origin (fresh, brackish or marine), and therefore to determine whether these animals had a full life cycle in freshwater, and whether this impacted their survival through climatic changes

    1. Biostratigraphic potential of freshwater hybodont sharks in Southeast Asia

    Dating and correlation in non-marine environment are notoriously difficult due to the absence of many biostratigraphic markers, usually restricted to marine environment (i.e. ammonites and foraminifera). The dating and correlation of the Khorat Group in northeastern Thailand and adjacent areas relied mostly on palynological data, although, like in Malaysia, palynomorphs are not always present in the Thais red beds. Recently, the use of hybodont sharks allowed locating the position of the Jurassic/Cretaceous boundary in the Phu Kradung Formation and the potential of hybodont sharks for correlation outside of northeastern Thailand has been demonstrated in Kut Island and South China The Malaysian discoveries offer an opportunity to establish a working biostratigraphic scale based on these fossils in the terrestrial Mesozoic of Southeast Asia.

    A full taxonomic revision of these sharks is, however, necessary before a reliable biostratigraphic scale based on hybodont sharks can be established for the non-marine Cretaceous of Southeast Asia. The deciphering of their phylogenetic relationships along with the isotopic characterization of their living environment will also vastly improve our understanding of their colonization patterns of freshwater environments.

    institutions and laboratories involved

    • Pr. Gilles Cuny (CNRS UMR 5023, Laboratoire d’Ecologie des Hydrosystèmes naturels et anthropisés, Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1)

    • Dr. Romain Amiot (CNRS UMR 5276, Laboratoire de Géologie de Lyon, Terre, Planètes, Environnement)


    • Dr. Masatoshi Sone (Department of Geology, University of Malaya) 

    • Ms. Yu He Teng (Department of Geology, University of Malaya)


    • Dr. Jinyou Mo (Natural History Museum of Guangxi)


    • Dr. Varavudh Suteethorn (Palaeontological Research and Eductaion Centre, Mahasarakham University)