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Sunday April 11, 2010

Malaysians getting obese - by eating too heavily at night

PETALING JAYA: More Malaysians are keeping awake till late to indulge in what is becoming a top national pastime – tucking it in at 24-hour eating joints.

Yes, we are practically eating round-the-clock. If you are still not convinced, take a look at the goings-on at mamak shops close to and way past midnight.

These shops have sprouted up all over the country to satisfy the cravings of Malaysians who are gorging on calorie-packed late night meals with hardly a care – and getting obese in the process.

Statistics show that the prevalence of obesity among Malaysian adults increased by a staggering 250% over a 10-year period from 1996 while the number of overweight has increased by 70%.

The National Health and Morbidity Survey in 2006 showed that two out of every five adults or 43%, were either overweight or obese and an alarming situation where the number of obese adults had more than tripled over a decade, from 4% in 1996 to 14% in 2006.

Besides that, about 38% of youngsters aged between 12 and 18 were classified as overweight.

A recent survey involving 10,000 students showed that 24% of those aged between six and 12 were either overweight or obese.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai is obviously a very worried man, with more Malaysians at risk of being seriously ill due to uncontrollable eating.

“It has to change ... an unbalanced diet and eating late at night,’’ he cautioned. “In the past, we used to have two meals. These days, we are eating five to six times daily with late-night suppers at mamak stalls,’’ he said after launching the Malaysian Council for Obesity Prevention (MCOM) here yesterday.

MCOM, which comprises 13 professional bodies and NGOs, was set up to help the government counter the problem of obesity in the country.

The minister, an avowed vegetarian, spoke of another worrying trend – meat is fast becoming a staple-diet here. A diet rich in red meat causes high cholesterol which leads to cardio-vascular disease.

“Available data on the prevalence of overweight and obesity indicates that the problem we face may be more serious than those in other countries of the region,” he added.

Being overweight and obese, he said, would lead to chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even cancer.

According to statistics, 14.9% and 43% of Malaysians aged above 30 suffer from diabetes and hypertension respectively, with 20.7% of adults over 18 suffering from high cholesterol.

Liow said 300 nutritionists would be employed to serve at government clinics nationwide to help tackle obesity problems by creating awareness on the dangers of unhealthy eating.

Malaysian Council for Obesity Prevention (MCOM) president Jong Koi Chong echoed the minister’s concerns, saying the unhealthy eating trend was becoming a major problem.

“Our metabolic rate is very low at night making it easy for fat to accumulate in the body.

"Most 24-hour restaurants serve food that is high in fat, calories and cholesterol. Sadly, more of our young are picking up bad eating habits from adults,’’ he added.

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