MALAYSIAN children and teenagers have a dietary problem that needs to be addressed immediately.
Studies conducted by the Nutrition Society of Malaysia revealed that almost 30% of children and teenagers aged between six and 17 years are either overweight or obese.
“This is a problem and since it involves schoolchildren it is a cause for concern.
“If nothing is done now, it will still be a problem when they are adults,” said the society's president Dr Tee E Siong.
The research involving 8,705 primary and secondary school students nationwide, also indicated that more male students (32.9%) were overweight compared with their female counterparts (24.7%).
According to the study, one out of four children skipped breakfast, which shows a lack of concern among parents over their children's eating habits and diet.
Dr Tee said parents who were busy with their careers and other matters , were to be blamed as they were shirking their responsibilities.
“It is this hands-off attitude, where they allow their children to eat what they want in school and at home, that has led their children to be in their current state. Many of them have no time to prepare a proper meal, leaving the task of cooking to their maids or relatives,” he added.
Other factors include lack of physical activities.
What is even more worrying, said Dr Tee is that weight issues not only affected those in urban areas but also rural areas.
“We often think that rural children have a relaxed lifestyle with more time for outdoor activities, but this is not always the case.
“With parents and schools giving importance to academics, rural children are just as busy.”
Furthermore, with their packed daily schedules at school and extra classes, there is no time to play or engage in sports, he said.
Another reason for the lack of an active lifestyle could be due to safety reasons, added Dr Tee.
Since parents have their own schedules and are unable to come home early, children are kept indoors, as they are afraid to let them play outside. However, he emphasised that being busy was no excuse to neglect the dietary habits of a child.
“Parents and guardians should spend time to prepare a balanced meal for their children and teach them to practice a healthy lifestyle,” he added
While obesity is a problem, forms of malnutrition such as stunting and wasting also exist among Malaysian children.
Unicef Malaysia representative Marianne Clark-Hattingh said Malaysia is one of the countries in South-East Asia that has been facing dietary-related problems including malnutrition.
Quoting the latest statistics from the National Health and Morbidity Survey, Clark-Hattingh said over seven percent of children under the age of five were overweight.
The survey also found that eight percent of children from the same age group suffered from malnutrition.
“The causes for overweight and under-nutrition are intertwined.
“The risk of being overweight goes up with increased access to junk food and drinks, eating food with high trans-fat or sugar content and low nutritional value. It also includes physical inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle,” said Clark-Hattingh.
Malnutrition, she added delays growth in children. It causes them to be prone to illness and effects cognitive abilities, preventing them from reaching their true potential.
“Likewise, obesity can also severely hamper a child's development and quality of life leading to secondary complications such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular problems, asthma and sleeping disorders,” she said. – Bernama