Malaysian ministry battles obesity problem

KUALA LUMPUR - The Health Ministry yesterday expressed concern over a host of non-communicable diseases (NCD) adopting a communicable trend in the country.

Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the tide of NCD was serious especially obesity, which was passed down from parents to children.

"The ministry will work on strengthening preventive care and create awareness to help the public understand their responsibility on health," he said in his speech before launching the 9th Allied Health Scientific conference here.

The other NCDs are diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular ailments, cancers, chronic lung diseases, emerging and re-emerging infections such as tuberculosis, dengue, and the growing number of psychiatric problems.

Liow said the ministry would work with dieticians, nutritionists, doctors and specialised therapists to provide the public with the needed assistance to care for their health.

"All non-communicable diseases are preventable."

The Malaysian Council for Obesity Prevention (MCOM) president Jong Koi Chong blamed Malaysians' unhealthy eating habits which caused a spike in NCDs.

"Late dinners and suppers are not encouraged as the metabolic rate is low during this period, making it easy for fat to accumulate," he said, adding more youth were frequenting 24-hour food joints which served high caloric food.

National Heart Institute chief dietitian Mary Easaw-John said most Malaysians saw obesity as "body size" and not a disease.

"Those who are obese or overweight do not see it as a medical condition, so they don't consult a doctor. The general attitude is to let it be."

Easaw John said food outlets should consider offering healthy food options. For example, she said if they served fish curry with coconut milk, there should also be steamed fish.

She added the government should come up with a programme that provided incentives to food outlets which offered such options.

The National Health and Morbidity Survey 2011 showed NCD cases were on the rise and data from government hospitals also showed between 38 per cent and 40 per cent of total deaths were due to NCD.

Statistics also showed 2.6 million adults were obese and an estimated 477,000 children below the age of 18 years were overweight.

On the Allied Health Professions Bill, which would be ready for public viewing for three weeks from Oct 1, Liow said the bill was also available on the ministry's website, adding feedback was welcome.

There are about 40,000 public and private allied health professionals in the country, who work with doctors and nurses to help patient recovery by conducting rehabilitation.