Obesity fast becoming a major health issue


THE Health Ministry has warned continued selling of unhealthful food and snacks at school canteens and other eateries across the country could lead to a population explosion of obese citizens in the future.

Undeniably, most foods sold at these outlets pack a high calorie and oil content . Although some are considered ‘appropriate,’ dieticians nowadays do not hold with their consumption by children and suggest replacing them with more nourishing meals.

From the standpoint of nutritionists, health problems are not caused by eating a specific food. An obsesogenic (obesity-causing) environment where food is omnipresent is even more potent in spawning gluttony or binge feasting.

Mechanisation and automation are also causing people to adopt sedentary lifestyles which precurse problems associated with being overweight. All these are forerunners of chronic medical ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and most noticeably, obesity.

Indeed, the rise in number of obese Malaysians has reached alarming proportions. Our country is now ranked the most obese country inSoutheast Asia– and the sixth most obese in Asia Pacific.

Some 14 per cent of the population is considered grossly overweight – from a low four per cent in 1996, according to the World Health Organisation.

Land Development Minister Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing, while closing the Sarawak Heart Foundation (SHF) workshop on prevention of obesity in the state recently, had warned obesity was fast becoming a major health issue in the country.

As such, he pointed out, the medical condition should not be taken lightly as it is not only a problem for doctors but also one for society.

According to him, locals tend to use euphemistic terms when talking about weight problems. They prefer substituting the word ‘healthier’ for ‘fatter’ because they are afraid they might sound disrespectful if they tell their plump friends directly they have put on weight.

It’s a culture thing but the message put across might be taken the wrong way – that being overweight is all right because it is healthy although the opposite is true.

Advocating the ‘honest’ approach, Masing said telling the obese about the potential health risks they are facing – with all those unwanted kilos to lug around – would be better than hiding the truth from them.

“Say it’s a also social problem and people will begin to look at it in a more serious manner and take action,” he added.

The objective of the SHF workshop was to take a critical look at the issue of obesity and gather feedback from the various stakeholders on how best to address the different aspects of the medical condition.

The stakeholders include bodies such as the Health Ministry, NGOs, schools and fitness centres, and efforts will be made to obtain coordinated and comprehensive inputs from them.

At the workshop, SHF organising chairman Professor Dr Sim Kui Hian proposed more health awareness campaigns be carried out by nutritionsist in pre-schools as well as primary and secondary schools.

He suggested introducing Body Mass Index (BMI) to students to let them know their own BMI and what it signified.

Generally, where forming good eating habits is concerned, school canteens have an important role to play as they are the main suppliers of daily foods to school children.

Here, it’s pertinent to also point out that many parents are guilty of packing their children off to school without breakfast. Studies have shown one in three kids do not get any breakfast everyday. This is, of course, undesirable.

Nutritionists have advised giving schoolchildren, not used to eating early in the morning, at least a nutritious drink – even better, a slice or bread and bowl of cereal. According to research, children who do not have breakfast tend to perform below those who do.

As the search for the perfect diet remains illusive, people generally can eat what they like. And since Nature dictates that penalty should follow excess, everything should be taken in moderation. Even if something is good, too much of it can be bad.

However, as society becomes more affluent, people tend seek out the good life – eat more, exercise less and gain weight which are the antithesis of robust health.

There are consequences for over-indulging. Certainly, we cannot afford a country of obese unproductive people. For one, this runs counter to the development of human capital which is one of the government’s top priorities in its quest to makeMalaysiaa high income nation.

Wholesome diets are vital to the development of a healthy society. Government agencies and NGOs such as consumers’ movements should campaign actively to drive home this important point.