On 25 December 2017, a new set of policies was proposed to address the rising trend of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) for a healthier Malaysia. Mainly on food, eating and exercise habits, health screenings, smoking, and employment and promotion criteria in civil service, the policies also aim to help the Ministry of Health (MOH) to stay within their budget for the year.

Due to the cost of treating NCDs and the lack of availability of such interventions, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam and the MOH developed key policies to address the country’s health issues.

According to Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, “13 policies on a healthy living environment were discussed by the Cabinet Committee for a Healthy-Promoting Environment for implementation in 2018 and 2019.”

However, just last week on 11 January, the MOH’s director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah denied any plans to impose sugar tax to control NCDs – despite reports of the MOH considering it since June 2016 – saying, “We have not discussed and no plan for implementation.”

Other reportedly controversial proposals include soda tax, limiting eateries’ operation hours to midnight, and making NCD risk a criterion for hiring and promotion in the civil service.

New health policies were introduced to solve the rising trend of NCDs. Photo credit: The New Straits Times
New health policies were introduced to solve the rising trend of NCDs. Photo credit: The New Straits Times

Many give thumbs up for new policies

Even though the MOH denied any concrete plans, many are advocating for the policies to be carried out.

SM Mohamed Idris, the President of Consumer Association of Penang (CAP) said that the MOH’s new proposals are timely. He also urged the MOH not to bow to pressure from restaurant groups – as they will be the most affected by the change of policy.

President of Malaysian Dietitians Association, Professor Winnie Chee, agrees, stating that, “If eating out is less accessible to public, then it will curb extra calories intake since most of the food sold in eateries are calorie-laded.”

“Nevertheless, if we don’t have as many eateries, it can encourage home prepared foods instead,” she reasoned.

“Prevention is better than cure and this is a good initiative, making people start with the government’s nudge,” echoed Datuk Dr Marimuthu Nadason, President of Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (Fomca). “If the government do not take actions now, it will be a burden in the future as the younger generation will keep falling sick and this could affect the country’s productivity.”

Prioritise education and awareness instead, experts urge

However, other experts beg to differ, stating that education and awareness should be prioritised instead. As Rozanna M Rosly, Head of Dietetic Services at UM Specialist Centre said, rather than blaming the country’s health problems on late-night eateries, holistic solutions such as early education on healthy cooking at home should be pushed for.

Commenting from the religious point of view, Datuk Seri Syed Ibrahim Kader, President of the Malaysian Indian Muslim Congress (Kimma) said that 24-hour restaurants and mamak eateries provide a safe place for youths to mingle, successfully preventing acts of khalwat. Instead of forcing eateries to close early, he urged the government to promote and educate better eating habits among the population.

Rather than blaming against late-night eateries, early education and the cultivation of home-cooked food should be prioritised.
Rather than blaming against late-night eateries, early education and the cultivation of home-cooked food should be prioritised.

Similarly, Datuk Nadzim Johan, Chief Activist of the Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia, questioned the need to impose a sugar tax.

“I don’t know if there is a need to have such a tax. You need a while for machinery to handle that. It is better to educate people,” he expressed.

He also urged that more research needs to be done to determine, clearly, what the objectives of these policies are – as the actions need to be justified.

Policies disrupt economic activities, consultation from relevant parties needed

The differing reactions from health experts and the public calls for more discussions to be held, before drawing up new policies. Particularly on health and fitness levels as benchmarks for career advancement of civil servants, President of the Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public Service (Cuepacs), Datuk Azih Muda said that “some job requirements may be determined by their state of health but not all and this should be debated first.”

He also urged the MOH to “start within the ministry first before applying it to everyone in the service”.

President of Cuepacs, Datuk Azih Muda, commented that there is a need for discussions before imposing policies on civil servants’ health being the benchmark for key performance indicators. Photo credit: Saw Siow Feng/The MalayMail Online
President of Cuepacs, Datuk Azih Muda, commented that there is a need for discussions before imposing policies on civil servants’ health being the benchmark for key performance indicators. Photo credit: Saw Siow Feng/The MalayMail Online

Sime Darby Property Bhd’s chief operation and transformation officer, Wan Hashimi, also agrees that the government should have organised a dialogue with stakeholders first before making the policies.

“We do not want it to be just another knee-jerk reaction but one that is successful,” he advised.

Dr Jacob George, President of the Consumers Association of Subang and Shah Alam, Selangor (Cassa) also urged for initiation on comprehensive consultation with related bodies or associations, which could provide valuable feedback.

“When you make policy decisions which can disrupt economic activities, you are inviting trouble and public resentment,” Dr George said. MIMS

Read more:
Not only the government, community including doctors urged to play a role in improving healthcare system
#YouAreWhatYouEat: Healthy dietary styles for healthy heart, lungs and brain
Healthy night time snacks

Sources:
https://www.nst.com.my/news/exclusive/2017/12/318178/policies-promote-healthier-nation
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