Obesity In Malaysia – The Shocking Truth

WHO? ME? If we blindly pick one Malaysian adult in the mall, workplace or home, there is a 50% chance for us to get a person with overweight or obesity problem.

Yes, this is the bitter truth that we have to accept and deal with. The National Health and Morbidity Survey conducted by Ministry of Health showed that there is an increasing trend in weight problems among Malaysian adults. Obesity prevalence increased from 4% in 1996 to 17% in 2015, and there is no sign that this prevalence is decreasing. What is going on in our country? Are Malaysians already accepting fatness as part of their lives?

Fattest in Southeast Asia
Hold on! There is another bitter fact that we have to deal with. The Global Status Report on Non-communicable Diseases published in 2010 reported that Malaysia ranked number 1 for having the highest obesity prevalence in Southeast Asia. Being number 1 in this category is not something that we should be proud of. One may say that this is simply a sign of Malaysia being a prosperous country. However, Japan which is also a developed nation has excellent statistics when it comes to weight. So, where did we go wrong?

Food, food, food everywhere
Once a friend said that obesity is high in Malaysia because Malaysia is a “food heaven” where we could get any type of food, at any time of the day. While there is some truth to this, my take is that we as adults should have the capacity to think, choose and decide on healthy lifestyle. After all, we are what we eat. Do we eat to live or live to eat? Hence, I would encourage all Malaysians to equip themselves with basic knowledge on nutrition such as portion control, high fiber and fluid intake, and practice this knowledge to the best level.

We are not farmers anymore!
On another note, we should also realize that the current dietary options with heavy meals may not be suitable with our work energy demand. Malaysia developed from being an agricultural to a more industrialized country. The food that our grandparents used to consume may be suitable for their work demands which were more physical in nature, but it isn’t the best option for us now. Today, we work in comfortable offices where we expel very little physical energy. This creates a mismatch between our energy intake and energy expenditure. Obesity is all about energy in and energy out. This is a well-accepted scientific fact. Higher energy intake, exceeding requirement leads to storage of energy in the form of fat. Generally, an extra intake of 900 calorie leads to an increase in 100 gram of body weight in a day. Multiply this to 365 days (1 year)! This is how our body slowly converts a healthy weight person into overweight and obese without us realizing it.

What now?
What is the solution for us in the modern world? The rule of thumb is to match our energy intake with our energy needs by choosing food with lower calories or by increasing physical activity. Yes, eat less calories or move more to attain a healthy active lifestyle.

In conclusion, a balanced meal with appropriate carbohydrate, protein, fat, fiber and fluid which match our energy need should be taken daily to prevent and manage obesity.

By Assoc Prof Dr Hamid Jan Bin Jan Mohamed,
member of the Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board

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