Tackling childhood obesity

BMI tests to be carried out on five- to nine-year-olds starting March

IT’S no secret that Malaysia still has a long road ahead towards becoming a healthier country.

Non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, according to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, have been on the rise in Malaysia; eight million Malaysians have a high cholesterol level; 3.9 million have diabetes; and 6.4 million have hypertension.

The Health Ministry survey also showed that 3.7 million Malaysians are obese – that’s one in two adults.

The country, said Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, has among the highest rates of obesity and heart disease, and is considered an unhealthy nation.

Low health awareness among Malaysians, he said during a recent television interview, led to the launch of the “Agenda Nasional Malaysia Sihat” to inculcate the importance of health literacy and to cultivate behavioural change among Malaysians.

Similarly, the Education Ministry wants to tackle obesity among young schoolchildren.

Last month, the ministry issued a circular, instructing schools to measure the body mass indices (BMIs) of pupils aged between five and nine, for the 2022/2023 school academic year which begins in March.

The BMI 5-9T programme will be carried out twice a year, with the first test done in the third month after the start of the schooling session based on the academic calendar, and the second five months after the first test.

Education director-general Datin Sri Nor Zamani Abdol Hamid, who signed the circular dated Dec 23, 2021, said BMI 5-9T is also aimed at helping pupils realise the importance of having an ideal body composition, doing regular exercises and practising a healthy diet for their well-being.

Its implementation will kick off on the first day of the 2022/2023 school academic year and will be done on a yearly basis for pupils of this age group.

Unfortunately, rising costs and challenges brought on by Covid-19 mean that healthy living and eating are not a priority particularly for families struggling to put food on the table.

Many have lost their jobs, with some 580,000 households slipping into the B40 group due to the pandemic, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob told Parliament in September last year.

He also revealed that the absolute poverty rate had risen to 8.4 per cent from 5.6 per cent in 2019.

With the price of vegetables and poultry rising sharply in recent weeks, healthy eating is a luxury for many and while tackling obesity among children is laudable, the success of such an initiative will depend on a holistic implementation of collective measures undertaken by all quarters in the community and government. — By SANDHYA MENON

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