Malaysia, among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) 6, has the highest obesity and overweight prevalence – 13.3 per cent and 38.5 per cent of the population, respectively. To address this public healthcare burden, a paradigm shift in focus and strategies, with more attention to preventive healthcare; consumer education; and multi-stakeholder partnerships and knowledge exchanges are needed, says Dr Tee E-Siong, President of the Nutrition Society of Malaysia.
In a conversation with the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN), Dr Tee discussed the state of obesity and its related challenges in Malaysia, as well as what he thinks Malaysia and other ASEAN countries can do to address the epidemic.
Dr Tee was a panellist during the launch of the “Tackling obesity in ASEAN: Prevalence, impact and guidance on interventions” report on 1 June in Singapore, and a speaker at the report launch in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 6 June.
The report, produced by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and commissioned by ARoFIIN, states that Malaysia and Indonesia experienced the highest overall costs of obesity in EIU’s study sample – Malaysia spent 10 to 19 per cent of its national healthcare spending to tackle obesity, and Indonesia 8 to 16 per cent. The total direct and indirect costs of obesity in Malaysia amounted to US$1-2 billion in 2016, In terms of productive years lost, obese males in Malaysia lose between six and 11 years on average, and obese females lose between seven and 12 years – the worst affected across the six ASEAN countries.
"Malaysians tend to associate obesity with looks rather than health", said Dr Tee. "So they don't think that it's a health problem, nor that they need to make an effort to prevent it. I think we need to seriously consider ways to tackle the whole healthcare system together, and change people's mindset of taking care of themselves; otherwise, the economic costs to the individual and to the country are going to be tremendous."
Dr Tee E-Siong, President, Nutrition Society of Malaysia, speaks during the launch of the "Tackling obesity in ASEAN: Prevalence, impact and guidance on interventions" report on 6 June in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.