Obesity is a mounting public health challenge that has grown into a global epidemic. It is estimated that almost one-third of the adults worldwide will be overweight, and more than one billion will be obese by 2025.
In Malaysia, based on the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, one of every two adults is overweight or obese.
The Economic Intelligence Unit reported in 2017 that Malaysia suffers the highest overall cost for obesity among ASEAN countries, reaching an alarming 10 to 20 per cent of the country’s health care expenditure.
These overall costs include treatment, loss of economic output and the loss of years of productive life due to obesity-related mortality.
Evidences show that obesity is a risk factor for many non-communicable diseases and now a major risk factor for Covid-19 complications and mortality.
From the preliminary results of our study of 3,221 working female adults, half of them were overweight (31.7 per cent) and obese (18.5 per cent).
The five most important risk factors for being overweight and obese are inadequate fruits and vegetable intake (90.4 per cent), anxiety (51.4 per cent), physical inactivity (30.3 per cent), depression (26.6 per cent), and stress (18.3 per cent).
About one-third have three or more risk factors (34.7 per cent), followed by one (32.6 per cent) and two risk factors (28.7 per cent).
The total number of risk factors was significantly associated with the risk of being overweight and obese.
Because of the complexities involved with the root causes of obesity, prevention and intervention efforts should no longer be simplistic, nor should they only target individual actions and centre around the “Eat less, move more” mantra.
Concerted efforts should be targeted at wider societal and governmental determinants.
In line with this year’s World Obesity Day theme, “Everybody Needs to Act”, it is now the time to declare the fight against obesity as everybody’s fight. Everybody has their part to play.
The following recommendations involve a top-down collaboration involving the government, policymakers, employers, municipal councils, and individuals at the interpersonal and intrapersonal levels.
Government And Policymakers
Reaffirm the commitment in addressing obesity as a matter of urgency through the implementation of comprehensive national strategies that tackle the structural roots of obesity.
The effective promotion of a healthy lifestyle should be done thoroughly via all available media platforms. Public health policies and preventive intervention programmes, especially on modifiable health-related behaviours should be made multidomain, and should not only target any particular aspect, but also incorporate overall socio-behavioural aspects.
Preventive approaches should also be made population-based and multilevel, focus on environmental and policy changes, and require participation from actors from multiple sectors.
Provisions must be made to ensure all interventions, including health care services and supportive environments and communities are easily accessible by the population.
Employers And Municipal Councils
Employers are encouraged to provide a healthy working environment for employees to reduce the risk and impacts of obesity.
Municipal councils should improve the availability and accessibility of parks, green spaces, and walking, jogging and cycling tracks that encourage healthier lifestyle practices among residents.
Social support from family members, colleagues and neighbours in the form of encouraging each other to practice healthy lifestyles is very crucial.
They should avoid stigmatising living with obesity. The weight stigma and bias can lead to the avoidance of seeking medical care, which creates barriers to obesity prevention and treatment.
Improving awareness about obesity amongst the public and challenging the assumption that obesity is purely an issue of personal responsibility is paramount to successfully reducing the stigma.
At the individual level, practising a healthier lifestyle is the most effective way to combat being overweight and obesity.
Halt smoking and alcohol consumption with expert guidance and assistance. Most public health clinics provide quit-smoking programmes. You can also register via the Ministry of Health’s JomQuit programme.
Eat healthy foods as frequently as you can. Make sure your diet consists of a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean poultry and fish, nuts and legumes, and vegetable oils. There are several mobile diet apps that are available to help you keep track of your daily diet.
Love your mind as you love your soul. Practising mindfulness, deep breathing, as well as relaxation exercises and therapies can provide a peaceful environment, thus preventing unhealthy behaviours that can lead to weight gain. Feel free to seek help and treatment if you need so.
Physical exercise should be practised, with at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity throughout the week. Examples include brisk walking, cycling at moderate speeds, swimming, gardening or walking. Finding an activity that you enjoy most will motivate you to continue adhering to it.
Social connectivity may provide more sustainable lifestyle changes. Improve your connections in the community to build a supportive society and conducive environment to keep you motivated to make healthier choices.
The only way we can make real progress in obesity prevention is by realising that this is an issue that affects everybody. Together, we can give everybody the best chance to live happier, healthier and longer lives.
Zakiah Othman is a final-year DrPH candidate, and Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming and Prof Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud are from the Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence-Based Practice, Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.