BACKGROUND: For many developing countries undergoing rapid economic growth and urbanization, trends in nutritional status indicate a decrease in malnutrition with an associated rise in the prevalence of obesity. An understanding of the situation among children in Malaysia is lacking.
OBJECTIVE: To examine the prevalence, trends and sociodemographic factors described for underweight and overweight children in Malaysia.
METHODS: The literature from January 1996 to November 2010 on the prevalence of underweight and overweight among children in Malaysia was reviewed.
RESULTS: Twelve studies were identified that reported on both underweight and overweight among children in Malaysia, of which only one was a nationally representative survey. Based on the National Health and Morbidity Survey in 2006, 13.2% (95% CI, 12.6 to 13.9) of children aged 0 to 18 years were underweight (weight-for-age < -2SD), and 8.0% (95% CI, 7.5 to 8.6) of those aged 0 to 13 years were overweight (weight-for-height > +2SD). Both underweight and overweight were more prevalent in males than females. Children in rural areas were more likely to be underweight and less likely to be overweight than urban children. Ethnic differences between Malays, Chinese, and Indians were inconsistent across studies and less clear. Aborigines were more likely to be underweight and less likely to be overweight than the general population. The available evidence, although limited and sparse, suggests that over the past decade the prevalence of both underweight and overweight among children in Malaysia has been stable or has shown an increasing trend.
CONCLUSION: Long-term national monitoring and longitudinal cohort studies will be critical for understanding, preventing, and managing the double burden of malnutrition among children in Malaysia.