WHILE the government has been working to decrease inequalities, Malaysia, unfortunately, still has a significant number of people – mainly from the lower income group (B40) – struggling to achieve socioeconomic and health equalities.
Socioeconomic problems and health and food insecurity are reported to be the main problems in this group, and amid the Covid-19 pandemic, women and children in this group are the most negatively affected and require urgent attention.
Noncommunicable diseases and malnutrition are some of the health threats reported among women in the B40 group, and these problems seem to be persistent among them. Studies have reported that the impact of diabetes is greater in women than in men, with a worse outcome. Women with diabetes have a higher risk of heart disease and earlier incidents of heart attack that can be fatal when compared to men.
Healthy habits are the most effective way to combat these issues but sadly, healthy living may take a back seat to work and caregiving in a woman’s life. To make matters worse, with the implementation of the lockdown from today, this already vulnerable group is facing another period of social and economic uncertainties.
Why are we focusing on women? Simply because women are usually responsible for producing and preparing food for their households, so their knowledge, or lack of it, can create issues not only for the women’s own health but also that of family members.
Ensuring the family has proper nutrition is especially vital now when we need our immune system to fight off the virus.
A healthy lifestyle is a combination of healthy eating, being physically active, avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol consumption. Here are some steps to help women to live healthily:
> Emphasising the “Healthy Eating Plate” on social media and other platforms to disseminate information about the right proportions of food items, ie, a 1⁄4 plate of grains or grain products, preferably whole grains such as brown rice or wholemeal bread; a 1/4 plate of fish, poultry, meat or egg; and a 1/2 plate of vegetables with a portion of fruit
> Encourage regular visits to health education and health promotion websites on what to eat – NGOs and the Health Ministry offer healthy meal options, for instance.
> Encourage family members, including husbands and older children, to help with house chores so mothers will have time to prepare healthy meals.
> Encourage family members to create a supportive social environment for women in the house and practise eating together rather than following the custom of women eating last.
> Educate women to read labels when purchasing ready-to-eat or ready-to-cook food, and to make healthy choices when purchasing online.
> Encourage a minimum of 30 minutes of regular, moderate-intensity activity three to five times a week with other members of the household; teach them to use online platforms like YouTube to find exercises to do at home.
> Encourage women to do gardening with family members, including children.
> Encourage health-seeking behaviour and to seek help when needed.
Adequate knowledge about a healthy lifestyle is important for women because of the direct effect women have on their family members and the next generation.
Low-income families are at risk of poor nutrition and unhealthy lifestyles during the lockdown.
Therefore, empowering and educating women can create an environment that benefits everyone.
DR KALAASHINI RAMACHANDRAN
Doctor of Public Health Candidate, Department of Public Health, Universiti Malaya Medical Centre
ASSOC PROF DR HAZREEN ABDUL MAJID
Head of Centre for Population Health, Department of Social and Preventive Medicine,