Malaysians Are Getting Fatter & More Unhealthy

Malaysians face similar health risks from obesity. Data obtained from selected communities for the late 1980s and early 1990s show increased rate of overweight (from 18 to 39%) and obesity (2.7 to 20%) – based on the definition of BMI of 25-29.9 for overweight and more than 30 for obesity.

In urban areas, probably 29% of people are overweight and 12% are obese. The means that about 26-53% – or about an average of 39% – of urban Malaysians are overweight and obese.

The problem appears to be also prevalent among the lower income urban adults. Even among rural communities, the problem of overweight appears to be on the increase.

The 1996 Ministry of Health (MOH)’s Second National Health and Morbidity Survey reported an overall national prevalence of overweight of 16.6% (or 3.3 million people), obesity (4.4%), and combined overweight and obesity (21%). (it is reported that 3 in 10 Malaysian men are obese.)

Mortality data for Malaysia shows that death due to disease of the circulatory system (of which the main causes of death are ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and acute myocardial infarctions) and neoplasms have been on the rise since the 1960s.

In fact, in a 22-year period (1975-1997), diseases of the circulatory system have topped the list of 10 leading causes of death in the country.

In addition, several epidemiological studies on risk factors of coronary heart disease among Malaysians have in the past found a prevalence of high serum cholesterol levels of 210-230 mg/dl. The prevalence of hyperlipidaemia (excessive lipids in the blood) among this group was almost 30%)

From the 1996 MOH’s nationwide survey on 22,984 subjects over 30 years old, the prevalence of total hypertension was 29.9% Diabetes mellitus was reported in 8.3% of the subjects.

There have been significant changes in the dietary patterns of Malaysians (eg: the increase in consumption of fats and oils and refined carbohydrates, and a decreased intake of complex carbohydrates).

And there has been a steady increase in the proportion of the calories from animal sources that we eat – from 10% in the 1960s to 20% in the late 1990s. There was also a steady decline in calories from complex carbohydrates, especially cereals, from 60% in the 1960s to 40% in the late 1990s.

Changes in meal patterns are also evident – more families eat out; and the younger generation skips breakfasts and relies too much on fast foods.

– based on information compiled from the paper, “Nutrition of Malaysians: Where are We Heading?” by Tee Ee Siong (Malaysia Journal of Nutrition, 1999)

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