Unhealthy meals, not operating hours, cause obesity: Medical association

PETALING JAYA - The Malaysian Medical Association has defended the operating times of 24-hour eateries but urged that they serve healthy food.

Its president Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan said 24-hour eateries were not the source of obesity problems but the types of food served were.

"The eateries must be advised to serve healthy food, and it should be made mandatory for menus to show the amount of calories of each meal as this would contribute as a 'disincentive' to consume that food," he said in a statement on Tuesday.

He said Malaysians should be taught and encouraged to reduce caloric intake and indulge in regular physical activity.

On Sunday, the Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity president Prof Dr Mohd Ismail Noor said the Government had to be more serious about controlling the environment that encourages obesity and all food outlets should be closed by midnight instead of being allowed to operate 24 hours.

Dr Tharmaseelan said most developed countries did not have 24-hour food outlets like Malaysia and yet obesity was prevalent.

He said the livelihood of thousands of Malaysians would be affected if these outlets were asked to close down or limit their operating hours and this would have financial implications for the nation as a whole.

He argued that most tourists saw the 24-hour eateries as an attraction as their food was cheap and easily accessible round-the-clock.

Night-shift workers and students, too, thronged these places as they might not have the time to cook, he said.

"Instead of banning, we should wean them off eating unhealthy and excess food. They should be encouraged to lead healthy lifestyles," he said, adding that persistence was needed.

Dr Tharmaseelan said the Government should make bold moves in withdrawing unhealthy foods and raising taxes on all types of sweetened drinks and food besides coming up with incentives and a long-term plan to address obesity.

More recreational centres and parks, too, should be built and maintained properly, he said.