Obesity in Malaysia is a ticking time bomb

The World Obesity Day that fell on March 4 addresses the global obesity epidemic. Among its missions are to increase awareness that obesity is a disease.

Malaysia has the highest prevalence of obesity among adults in South East Asia. In the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey, 50.1% of our adult population were reported to be overweight (30.4%) or obese (19.7%). Obesity is a risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and several cancers such as breast, large intestine, pancreas and kidney cancers. Compared with normal-weight individuals, obesity increases the risks of type 2 diabetes by sevenfold in men and a 12-fold increase in women.

Professor Dr Moy Foong Ming, Professor Dr Noran Naqiah Hairi and Dr Wan Kim Sui (our Doctor of Public Health candidate) wrote to the media expressing their worries about the obesity problem and suggested some recommendations for the general public. The article has been published in The Star, Malaysiakini, and Sinchew.

A local study found that 30% of our type 2 diabetes patients were clinically obese. Diabetes patients need to achieve as many ABC treatment goals as possible to prevent complications like cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and foot complications. (A for A1C reflects blood sugar control over the past three months, B for blood pressure and C for LDL-cholesterol or bad cholesterol).

However, the diabetes patients who were obese were 1.5 times less likely to achieve all three ABC goals than normal-weight patients. Weight reduction is a great strategy for overweight and obese patients to improve blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol control. That’s killing at least three birds with one stone.

Some recommendations for Malaysians are:

  1. Follow a healthy plate according to the concept of “suku suku separuh” or “Quarter quarter half”. (Details: ¼ plate – of grains or grain products, preferably whole grains; ¼ plate of fish or poultry, meat, or egg and ½ plate of fruits and vegetables)
  2. Exercise regularly. For adults, aim to have 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (i.e. brisk walking, cycling with light effort and recreational badminton) per week.
  3. Remember, obesity is not just about physical appearance. It is a disease that could give rise to other NCDs.

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