If there’s one thing that Malaysians are often closely associated with when it comes to our culture, it’s eating. We gotta admit that we’ve got a more-than-healthy affair with food simply because of the advantage of living in a nation that’s a melting pot of culture. Despite it being “more-than-healthy” affair that we often boast about to tourists, it’s increasingly becoming an unhealthy relationship.
According to The Malaysian Insider, Malaysia is Southeast Asia’s fattest country, where a nationwide foodie culture is feeding mounting concern over what its health minister calls “an obesity epidemic”. Health Minister Datuk Seri S. Subramaniam warned of a “crisis in unhealthy behaviour”, saying, “We are the most obese nation in Southeast Asia, and Malaysians are becoming more obese.”
As stated in a 2013 study by UK medial journal Lancet, nearly 45% of Malaysian men and almost half of women are overweight or obese, compared to global rates of around 30%. Childhood obesity rates in Malaysia also are climbing, from less than 10% a decade ago to nearly 14% in 2008, according to the most recent figures, saddling health systems with a new generation of diabetes, hypertension, and other obesity-related illnesses
Already, some 2.6 million adults have diabetes, a figure authorities expect to spike to 4.5 million in 2020. To put that into perspective, Malaysia has a population of around 29 million. On top of that, according to The Star Online, Malaysia has not only been ranked the fattest country in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is also considered the sixth fattest country in the Asia-Pacific region.
Malaysia is a victim of its own success, with decades of economic advancement bringing the flip-side health issues that developing countries often encounter when hunger is defeated, incomes rise, and lifestyles become more sedentary. A key factor is the national love for Malaysia’s delicious but rich fare: spicy curries made with fattening coconut milk, carb-heavy rice dishes, and sugary drinks like teh tarik, a frothy tea with sweetened condensed milk.
Let’s not forget that open-air food stalls aka “mamak”s are a fixture in every neighbourhood, often open 24 hours and full of late-diners, a major health no-no, according to doctors. Fast food giants McDonald’s and KFC also do a roaring business, and Malaysians are among the world’s top per-capita sugar consumers. To make matters worse, compounding the issue, Malaysia has historically lacked a strong tradition of active outdoor leisure pursuits, due in part to the sweltering weather, Islamic modesty, and shortage of public spaces for exercise.
Health Minister Datuk Seri S. Subramaniam said the problem eventually “will affect productivity and impact our economic development”.
Over the past year, the government has ramped up public-awareness campaigns and mass street-exercise activities. Subsidies that kept prices of sugar and cooking oil low have been reduced in recent years, for joint budgetary and health reasons. Fitness chains, a relatively undeveloped industry in Malaysia, now report growing numbers of health-conscious members. “At least 3 out of 10 people who sign up at our gym do it because of illnesses, including obesity and heart-related illness,” said Elaine Yap, marketing manager with fitness chain Jatomi, which has 4 outlets.
Experts say more official action is needed.
Mohamad Ismail Noor, president of the Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity, backs emerging calls to ban 24-hour food outlets, cut sugar content in beverages, further reduce sugar and cooking oil subsidies, and build more parks. “We need to take stern action. The government has to put its foot down and say 24-hour outlets are not healthy. Obesity is the mother of all diseases,” he said.
Oh man, tough love since being “epicurious” has always been kinda like a Malaysian “thing” aka way of life. Perhaps we should all really start adopting a different “way of life” then, and start by first eating clean? And if that’s the first option you’re going for, here are some of our suggestions – the top #eatclean healthy food delivery services in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.
Thank us later ;)