Nutritionist: 95% of Malaysian Adults Don’t Eat Enough Vegetables

The Health Ministry’s Malaysian Dietary Guidelines recommend at least two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables every day.

KUALA LUMPUR, April 21 – Nearly all Malaysian adults do not eat the recommended amount of vegetables required daily, according to nutritionist Dr Yasmin Ooi Beng Houi.

Dr Ooi, who is the food science and nutrition faculty deputy director at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), said this applies to 95 per cent of all Malaysian adults, which contributes to rising prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes and hypertension, and anaemia – a blood disorder caused by iron deficiency – in women of reproductive age.

The Ministry of Health’s (MOH) Malaysian Dietary Guidelines recommend at least two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables every day.

“So, how do we persuade 95 per cent of Malaysians, that’s almost every Malaysian, to eat fruits and vegetables every day? We need to use all possible messages and all possible platforms to drive home that point,” Dr Ooi said at the World Health Day 2022 virtual event held on April 7.

Dr Ooi said the national trend for a number of NCDs were “alarming”, citing the prevalence of hypertension at 30 per cent and diabetes at 20 per cent. According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) in 2019, one in two adult Malaysians are overweight or obese.

Speaking of anaemia in women of reproductive age, Dr Ooi said while Malaysia’s maternal mortality rate had dropped very significantly from 530 per 100,000 live births in 1957, to 30 per 100,000 live births in 2020, one in three women of reproductive age are anaemic.

“So, severe iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy does increase risk of premature birth. It does carry a risk of delivering a low birth weight baby and outside of pregnancy, particularly important now with the Covid-19 pandemic, iron deficiency degrades non-specific immunity. And in lay person speak, that means we are more prone to frequent infections,” Dr Ooi said.

Dr Ooi, also a member of the National Agriculture and Food Industry Advisory Council, said there are efforts in the government pipeline to encourage more people to plant vegetables for their own consumption.

“So, for example, in the state that I live and work in, I know government nutritionists are running healthy cooking demonstration kitchens in communities. They are also planting edible gardens in every district and sharing the knowledge and know-how with the local communities and schools so that people could become more encouraged to eat more plants,” Dr Ooi said.

Dr Ooi also raised the need for more nutrition educators across the country.

“I think we need more nutrition educators. Thankfully, we now have the Allied Health Professions Act in Malaysia, so that Act of Parliament recognises and empowers, among others, nutritionists as health professionals trusted to deliver evidence-based nutrition advice for people to eat better, use nutrition to achieve better health, and ultimately, live better lives – good quality lives.”

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