Malaysia is the fattest country in Asia. It has a higher proportion of the population that are overweight and obese than any other country in the region.
The terms overweight and obesity mean that a person’s weight is greater than that considered healthy for his or her height. The difference is that obesity also means having too much body fat.
What is truly concerning is the dramatic rise in the proportion of children that are overweight. The below diagram shows the rise in the proportion of overweight children across Asia from 1990 to 2016. As can be seen, the rise is a trend across the region, with Malaysia remaining way ahead of the pack.
Share of children who are overweight, 2016
The overweight percentage of children Malaysia was 17% in 1990 and has since doubled to 35% in 2016.
In comparison to its neighbours, Malaysia is facing an overweight epidemic.
Why the significant rise?
The availability of trans fat, sugar and a sedentary lifestyle is driving Malaysia’s overweight epidemic.
As can be seen in the below graph, there is a slightly higher proportion of children who suffer from being overweight in the city than in rural areas. The city life is all about driving and immediate gratification with fast food – even in the middle of the night.
Children are more likely to be seen on their mobile phones than exercising. This sedentary and unhealthy food lifestyle contributes significantly to the risk of developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – such as heart conditions, diabetes and cancer.
The upward trend is likely to continue. Malaysia is sleepwalking into a major obesity crisis especially among children.
The study also shows that age group 5-9 has higher rate of obesity compared to children aged 10-14. This means kids are getting unhealthier at an earlier age.
The upward trend cannot be allowed to continue. Obesity has major impacts on the quality of an individual’s life, both mentally and physically. It also poses a major burden on society at large in terms of lack of productivity and an increased healthcare burden.
A major intervention is needed, which will require an ecosystem focused on changing the eating behaviour and lifestyle behaviour of children. This is the focus of Vircle.