MALAYSIA recently received the questionable honour of being the most obese country in Southeast Asia.
Presented at the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition in Kuala Lumpur, the Tackling Obesity in Asean report said this is mainly due to Malaysians’ strong love for food and lack of exercise – it revealed that only a third of Malaysian adults had ever exercised, while only 14% exercised adequately.
Critically, said Nutrition Society of Malaysia’s president Dr Tee E. Siong, Malaysian children risk growing up obese unless parents tackle their unhealthy lifestyle – in 2011, the National Health and Morbidity Survey showed that almost 500,000 children in Malaysia were obese, and childhood obesity is likely to continue into adulthood.
Dr Tee attributed this growing problem to the society’s emphasis on academic excellence, which he said had resulted in additional tuition hours and academic work among children to the detriment of physical activities.
Malaysia also scored D (on a scale of A for excellent to F for failing) for overall physical activity, active transportation and sedentary behaviour in its 2016 Active Healthy Kids report card.
Comparing 38 countries, the study by the Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance analysed the physical activity of children and youth according to nine indicators: overall physical activity, organised sport participation, active play, active transportation, sedentary behaviour, family and peers, school, community and the built environment, and government strategies and investments.
The report card demonstrated that Malaysian children and adolescents are engaging in low levels of physical activity and active commuting, high levels of screen time, and have extremely low compliance with dietary recommendations.
More efforts are needed to address the root causes of physical inactivity while increasing the opportunities for children and adolescents to be more physically active, it said.
Malaysian school and government strategies and investment were interestingly graded B, but to no one’s surprise, diet was assigned the lowest grade of F.
Malaysia has been looking at emulating Finland’s academic record, perhaps we should also look at its initiative to improve students’ physical activity - Finnish Schools on the Move.
Another noteworthy initiative in the Nordic country that Malaysia can learn from is its school lunch programme - under the Finnish National Nutrition Council’s directive, schools are required not only to provide free lunches, but they must also ensure that the food is nutritional.
There is definitely a need to review the food sold at our school canteens, as Dr Tee pointed out, “The early years are the best time to mould good eating habits and an active lifestyle. Help your children develop healthy eating habits. Get them to become more physically active.”