Obesity-an emerging health crisis

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is heading for an obesity crisis if eating and lifestyle habits do not change for the better, health and nutritional experts have cautioned.

Reacting to official statistics that show an alarming rise in the nation’s obesity rate, they said the time has come for all concerned to take a good look at their lifestyles and make gradual changes.

Deputy dean of UPM’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences Associate Prof Dr Barakatun Nisak ​​Mohd Yusof said recognizing obesity as a disease would be a step in the right direction.

She explained that this would allow individuals to seek earlier medical intervention as with patients with other problems, like a fever.

“Most people see obesity from a cosmetic perspective and are unaware of how it is a catalyst towards issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure and even diabetes.

“Covid-19 also puts obese individuals at a higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms,” she said, adding that almost 80% of her patients with type 2 diabetes were obese.

Prof Barakatun added that a structured approach was necessary to tackle obesity, especially among individuals with chronic diseases, as it required medical intervention and gradual lifestyle changes.

She also noted how only 20% of the population were aware of the healthy plate portioning approach or “Suku-suku-separuh” initiative by the Health Ministry, adding that active implementation of this could potentially see a drop in the nation’s obesity rates.

The campaign suggests people eat meals comprising a quarter portion of carbohydrates, such as rice or bread, and another quarter portion of proteins, such as fish, chicken or meat, with the other half being vegetables and fruits.

Clinical dietician and certified bariatric educator Ng Kar Foo also voiced out the need to recognize obesity as a chronic disease.

“It is something that requires multidisciplinary support and long-term treatment beyond just eating less and moving more,” he said.

Healthy eating, he said, was not a grueling process if done at the right pace, adding that a healthy diet would lead to physical, mental and social health.

Ng added that people should request better food options when eating out as a measure towards better weight management.

“At mamak restaurants, for example, one may opt for thosai instead of roti canai. The same can be done for drinks and patrons can go for sugar-free options instead,” he said.

Nutrition Society of Malaysia president Dr Tee E. Siong described obesity as the “mother of all diseases” and warned of the alarming rate of school children being either overweight or obese.

“A study done in 2017 also showed at least 30% of primary and secondary school children were either overweight or obese.

“If we do not nip this in the bud, we are looking at an increasing number of obese adults within the next 20 years and repercussions to their health,” he said.

Tee said education played an important role in curbing obesity rates and added that parents should be good role models.

Fitness educator and health coach Sebastian Tan said many people tried to lose an excessive amount of weight within a short period of time.

“This can lead to burnout which may cause the individual to fall back and eventually gain the weight that was lost,” he said.

Instead, he said there were other steps that could be gradually implemented as alternatives.

“People can implement simple steps such as moving around or taking more steps daily,” he said.

The Health Ministry reported recently that half of the Malaysian adult population was either overweight or obese and warned that the matter was reaching an alarming level.

It said 30.4% of Malaysian adults were overweight and 19.7% obese.

Obesity rates were also on the rise each year, from 14% in 2006 to 15.1% (2011) and 17.7% (2015). The next study will be conducted in 2024.

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