PETALING JAYA - What really makes Malaysians fat is the perception that obesity is not a disease, said National Heart Institute chief dietitian Mary Easaw-John.
"I realised that it is not just the food or the sedentary lifestyle Malaysians have. Of course, that may have contributed to obesity issues but the main problem is that we do not look at obesity as a problem," she said in response to the recent World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics that Malaysia had the highest percentage of obese people in South-East Asia.
She said it might be this perception that led many Malaysians to stick to their ways despite the Government's awareness campaigns and its efforts to encourage healthy lifestyles.
"The Government has built parks around residential areas to encourage people to exercise but they cannot actually force people to exercise," said Easaw-John.
"Often, when I talk to patients who are obese, they give me excuses like my whole family is fat but nothing has happened to them' or my friend said if I lose too much weight I will not look nice'."
She said the fact that being obese did not directly cost a person money also contributed to the problem.
"It's not like diabetes, heart disease or cancer, where you have to fork out money to pay for medication. If you are okay with being obese, you don't need to spend money," she said.
Easaw-John said parents were often the ones to blame when their children became obese as "it is their duty to discipline their children and instil good lifestyle habits".
"There is a need to change Malaysians' attitude towards obesity. We must make them understand the impact of obesity fully," she said.
Some Malaysians want organisers of functions to cut down on the kuih, which is often abundantly served to participants.
"We are very hospitable and we want our guests well fed," a media consultant said.
"But this is very unhealthy. We take a break to eat every half hour or so and it doesn't help that at every function, the delicious kuih or nasi lemak is right in front of you," he added.