“World Obesity Day 2022” calls for urgent recognition and greater action in Malaysia

March 7, 2022
“World Obesity Day 2022” calls for urgent recognition and greater action in Malaysia

Themed “Everybody Needs to Act,” World Obesity Day this year aims to push recognition of obesity as a chronic disease as well as drive national action and partnership to improve the lives of Malaysians at risk and living with obesity. The country has the highest rates of adult obesity in Southeast Asia, for several years running: according to the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey, more than half, or 50.1% of the adult population in Malaysia were reported to be overweight (30.4%) or obese (19.7%).

Besides adult obesity, the prevalence of childhood obesity is also increasing at an alarming rate in Malaysia, with 29.8% of children aged 5 to 17 years being overweight (15.0%) or obese (14.8%).

Obesity has untold impacts on the health of individuals and communities and more. In 2017, public health stressor overweight and obesity accounted for 13.3% of total health costs and 0.54% of Malaysia’s GDP (gross domestic product) or US$1.7 billion – not including the associated costs of reduced productivity, disability, and absences from work.

Several nutrition-based initiatives have been introduced to address the problem of obesity, with the latest being the launch of a global platform for public health, policy, and patient representation centered around obesity care. The Chairperson of the Obesity Policy Engagement Network in Malaysia (MY OPEN), Professor Dr. Rohana Abdul Ghani, Professor of Medicine, and Consultant Endocrinologist at Universiti Teknologi Mara, said: “Obesity requires urgent action and the time to act is now. MY OPEN is calling for widespread recognition of obesity as a chronic disease at the government, clinical and public level. This will help to ensure that the responsibility of managing obesity moves from the individual to a collective level. We believe that a systemic and sustained approach is needed to address the complex burden of obesity.”

She explained that the current clinical management of obesity in Malaysia – a four-step cycle of therapy, which includes diet and exercise, medication, non-invasive treatment, and surgery – is inadequate. “There is a limited number of public hospitals that offer such obesity-related services, and as a result, patients in many communities lack the integrated care needed to manage obesity and must access different touchpoints, prolonging their access to effective care,” Dr. Rohana said.

She further added that healthcare professionals in primary care services often do not treat obesity but instead treat other related conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension. This could have resulted not from a lack of knowledge but from the lack of prioritisation of obesity as a disease, inadequate training, and limitations in time, as well as resources.

Dr. Rohana additionally advocates for policies designed to ensure effective management for people with obesity; the task necessitates proactive engagement from all sectors – including governments, media organisations, private corporations, healthcare providers, and individuals themselves.

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