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Dr. Supiya Charoensiriwath: Pioneering AI for Health and Nutrition in Thailand and Beyond
7 MINUTE READ
January 31, 2024

Winner, Mid-Career Scientist Category, 2022

A Transformative Journey in Fight Against Childhood Obesity

Meet Dr. Supiya Charoensiriwath, a prominent figure leading Thailand’s efforts to combat childhood obesity and advocate for healthy eating habits. Her pioneering work leverages the capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) to gather and analyze vital health-related data. A distinguished graduate of University College London, Dr. Supiya currently serves as the Principal Researcher and Head of the Human Behavior Analytics Research Team at the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center. Her remarkable journey to winning the 2022 Underwriters Laboratories-ASEAN-U.S. Science Prize for Women was a testament to her commitment to AI research, which harmoniously aligned with the competition’s theme that year.

Revolutionizing Child Health Research

Dr. Supiya’s research odyssey began during her doctoral studies, where she directed her focus toward health and childhood nutrition. Her involvement in the UK Sizing Survey left an indelible mark on her research trajectory. Upon her return to Thailand, she spearheaded the groundbreaking “SizeThailand” project, employing 3D body scanning technology to collect data from over 13,000 participants during 2007-2008. This ambitious endeavor aimed to create standardized body size charts to enhance the fit of products tailored to Thai consumers.

The complexity of constructing body sizing charts led Dr. Supiya and her research team to innovate. They developed a novel swarm intelligence AI algorithm that revolutionized the process. This breakthrough enabled the creation of more precise body charts, covering 98% of the population with 10 female and 9 male body sizes, surpassing all previous methods.

Bridging Nutrition Gaps and Impact Beyond Borders

The impact of the SizeThailand survey data extended beyond the fashion industry. Dr. Supiya’s research revealed that over a third of the Thai population was either overweight or obese. This critical data informed the Department of Health’s recalibration of Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for Thais, a pivotal step in addressing diet-related disorders. Dr. Supiya and her team also collaborated with Health and Nutrition experts to develop nutrition-related apps, including MyHealth Thailand, FoodiEat, and FoodChoice, offering guidance to consumers and facilitating data collection for further research. Dr. Supiya’s influence reached international borders, as she advised both the Malaysian and Philippine Sizing Surveys, sharing her expertise in developing precise body size charts.

Dr. Supiya’s dedication to childhood nutrition extended to initiatives such as KidDiary, an app designed to monitor children’s growth and development , and the Thai School Lunch project. Her commitment to bridging the nutrition gap between privileged and underprivileged children became apparent. She emphasized, “It is crucial to recognize that for some children, school lunches might be the only meal they have that day.” Dr. Supiya actively pursued collaborations with local farmers to ensure food safety and accessibility for all school children around Thailand.

Another groundbreaking initiative led by Dr. Supiya and her team is REMI, an intelligent chatbot designed to support expectant mothers. Packed with knowledge on obstetrics and gynecology, REMI employs Natural Language Processing, allowing computers to understand text and spoken words, facilitating valuable interactions with expectant mothers during their pregnancy journey.

Recognition, Future Initiatives, and Mentorship

Winning the Science Prize for Women in 2022 in the mid-career category propelled Dr. Supiya into the spotlight. With increased recognition and credibility, she is better positioned to seek new research grants. Dr. Supiya acknowledges that her status as a prize winner amplifies the credibility of her work, motivating her to translate this success into additional funding opportunities for expanding her research at the intersection of childhood nutrition and AI.

“I still have the same passion for wanting to drive new initiatives to improve the quality of life for all children regardless of their social background. I would like to inspire other women, especially the younger generation, to come up with new innovations to make a difference to our future society.”

Dr. Supiya’s journey continues with an exciting new initiative centered around food traceability. Together with her dedicated research team in Bangkok, she utilizes blockchain technology to verify cross-border trade flows, ensuring the safety of food supplies. Additionally, through her association with the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), Dr. Supiya mentors scholarship recipients, ranging from high school students to Ph.D. candidates in STEM fields. She frequently shares her insights as a featured speaker, championing the cause of women in STEM issues in Thailand. Dr. Supiya Charoensiriwath is a beacon of inspiration, embodying the impactful fusion of AI, healthcare, and nutrition for the betterment of society.

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Aligned with the U.S. strategic approach to the Indo-Pacific, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) maintains its commitment to partnering with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This collaboration aims to promote prosperity, security, economic inclusion, women’s empowerment, and good governance. The Underwriters Laboratories – ASEAN – U.S. Science Prize for Women competition, now in its tenth year, underscores the invaluable contributions of women in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) research and highlights the enduring public-private sector partnership with ASEAN, USAID, and UL Research Institutes. Since 2014, the competition to date has attracted 418 total applicants from ASEAN countries and awarded $240,000 in cash prizes to 23 winners and honorable mentions reaffirming the significance of women in advancing sustainable societal improvements through science and technology expertise.