KUALA LUMPUR, July 19 — Obesity costs are estimated to comprise between 10 and 20 per cent of health care spending in Malaysia, the fattest country in Asia, a research firm said.
Almost half of the adult population in Malaysia aged 18 and above were overweight and obese, according to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015. About one of three adults were overweight (30 per cent), while 3.3 million adults were obese (17.7 per cent).
“Malaysia has the highest costs [in the Asia Pacific] as a result of high obesity levels, followed by Indonesia,” said Fitch Solutions Macro Research in a commentary.
“Loss of productivity as a result of obesity has also been a growing concern, particularly in countries with less-developed economies.”
Fitch Solutions noted the association between being overweight and chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and heart disease, which has resulted in growing costs on health care systems in the Asia Pacific, including hospitalisation and medicine costs.
According to the research firm, 40.9 per cent of adults in the Asia Pacific were overweight or obese in 2013, rising from 34.6 per cent in 1990. The number of obese children in the region rose 38 per cent between 2000 and 2016, with almost half of obese children under five years old globally living in Asia.
More than a quarter, or 26.3 per cent, of residents in Southeast Asia were overweight in 2013, lower than China at 27.9 per cent.
Fitch Solutions attributed Asia Pacific’s rising obesity levels to improving economic standards that led to lifestyle changes and the adoption of more unhealthy diets.
The firm expected governments in the Asia Pacific to promote physical exercise to fight obesity, as exercise infrastructure is relatively cheap.
States may also put nutritional value labels on food, while United Nations data shows a reduction in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages proportional to taxes applied.
“However, it is worth noting that, since relevant data and findings are sourced from mostly OECD countries, their applicability in Asian countries might be limited,” said Fitch Solutions.
The research firm also projected an uptake in generic anti-obesity drugs like orlistat in the region.