Almost half of Malaysia’s population is either overweight or obese.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said in recent speech that, "A national health and morbidity survey shows that obesity is prevalent among Malaysians above 18, with the numbers drastically rising. The number of obesity cases in 1996 was 4.4% (of the population), rising to 14% in 2006. This rose to 15.1% in 2011 and 17.7% last year."

He added some 30.3% of adults suffered weight problems and that Malaysians are facing health problems due to their unhealthy lifestyles.

"As a whole, one in two Malaysian adults is overweight or one in five is obese. In 2015, nearly half of Malaysian adults or 47.7% suffered from high cholesterol or hypercholesterolemia," he said. The unhealthy lifestyle has also resulted in an increase in diabetes cases since 1996, with numbers rising from 11.6% in 1996 to 15.2% in 2006 and 17.5% last year.

Risk of increasing incidences of cardiovascular disease

According to the Department of Statistics, heart disease is the principal cause of death among Malaysians (2005-2014), recording at 13.5 per cent in 2014.

“Malaysian Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS) patients are younger compared to Western registries, in particular, among the ST Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarctions (Stemi) subgroup (classic heart attack with full thickness damage of heart muscle),” says professor Datuk Dr Wan Azman Wan Ahmad, Universiti Malaya consultant cardiologist, whom has served as the chief editor for four National Cardiovascular Database Annual Reports.

According to the National Cardiovascular Database Annual Report, nearly a quarter of Malaysian heart patients are below the age of 50. About half ACS sufferers also face three or more risk factors, with the most widespread being obesity, followed by high blood pressure or hypertension, diabetes, smoking and high cholesterol, all of which are controllable at the individual level. 

Diet and lifestyle, a major factor

Many Malaysian dishes contain high-caloric ingredients such as palm and coconut oil and the population is increasingly leading a sedentary lifestyle, with their jobs also not requiring any activity. "The type of food we eat is very high-calorie, and we have to concede we eat more food than we need," said Subramaniam.

Subramaniam also stated that these ailments are linked to unhealthy dietary habits, where not enough fruits and vegetables are eaten. "Only 6% of Malaysian adults take enough fruits and vegetables, or two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables as suggested by the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines 2010," he said.

He further highlighted that individuals are less susceptible to cancer by between 5% and 12% if they consume more greens and fruits. The Malaysian government has introduced several campaigns and programmes to encourage Malaysians to improve their diet.

A survey has been scheduled to be conducted in five years to measure how effective the campaigns have been.

In addition, Subramaniam has highlighted that the urban lifestyle in Malaysia does not encourage activity. Town planning is often focused on cars and roads rather than pedestrian areas as Malaysians prefer to drive. He further stated that people need to be more caloric conscious about what they eat.

The president of the Malaysia Nutrition Society, Dr. E-Siong Tee, believes that education is the key to getting Malaysians to slim down.

"I think the solution must be in educating the young people now for example primary school children. If we educate the 10-year-olds and the 11-year-olds now, they will become adults later on and 20 years later they will be healthier adults. Less obese, less overweight and healthier Malaysians," he says. MIMS

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