PETALING JAYA - Obesity needs to be highlighted as a disease to underline the gravity of the condition.
Two health associations want the Government to move public awareness in this direction.
Malaysian Society for the Study of Obesity president Prof Dr Mohd Ismail Noor said the situation had become more urgent because there were more overweight children now.
"They do not recognise that it (obesity) is a disease. So, no one cares and think it is okay to be fat. Once you treat it as a disease, it will make people aware," he said.
He said obesity was the underlying factor for chronic diseases such as diabetes.
Obesity and being overweight are among the risk factors for type II and gestational diabetes - which occurs during pregnancy.
Malaysia is ranked sixth in the Asia-Pacific region for obesity and tops the list in South-East Asia for both obesity and diabetes.
Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya recently said that there were about three million obese Malaysians and the number was increasing while there were about five million individuals who suffer from varying degrees of diabetes.
A sedentary lifestyle is among the main factors for the high incidence.
Dr Mohd Ismail said some parents thought having "chubby children" was a reflection that they were well-fed and cared for but they did not realise that the child was likely to be overweight during puberty and this would continue throughout their lifetime.
"Once you are obese, it will be a lifelong problem," he said.
'Compel Malaysians to consume less sugar and oil'
He felt that the reduction in subsidies in items such as sugar and oil would compel Malaysians to consume less of such food items.
"You can always introduce food stamps for the poor so they are able to get the item if it gets too expensive once the subsidies are removed," he said, adding that it was a "double whammy" as they would have to spend more on medical treatment if they fell sick.
Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM) president Dr Tee E Siong said while obesity was not listed as a cause of mortality, it should be considered a disease in Malaysia when "communicating to the public".
"This is because obesity is a major risk factor to many non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancers," he said.
"My main reason for calling obesity a disease is so that the public can become more aware of the dangers of the condition.
"However, in calling obesity a disease, I certainly do not want it to have negative implications. For example, the obese children and adults should not be discriminated against," he said.
He added that the main point was not whether obesity was labelled a disease but it was for all stakeholders to give adequate attention towards preventing obesity with the highest political commitment.
"It should be beyond merely establishing strategic plans and action plans. There should be a systematic approach towards combating the problem," he said.