KUALA LUMPUR, March 3 – Obesity rates in Malaysia are projected to skyrocket in the coming years, with a new report from the World Obesity Federation predicting that 41 per cent of the country’s adults will be obese by 2035.
The study warns that the trend could have serious implications for Malaysia’s health care system and economy, as well as for the overall wellbeing of the population.
Malaysia’s current obesity rate among adults aged 18 years and older is 19.7 per cent, according to the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019. That means the national adult obesity rate is expected to more than double in about 12 years.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines obesity as individuals with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, while a BMI of 25 or higher is considered overweight.
The latest data from the World Obesity Atlas 2023 reveals that Malaysia is set to experience a “very high” annual increase in both adult and child obesity rates in the coming years.
The report predicts that adult obesity will rise by 4.7 per cent annually from 2020 to 2035, while child obesity rates will increase by 5.3 per cent per year over the same period.
According to projections, overweight individuals will have a significant economic impact on Malaysia’s GDP by 2035. The impact is expected to be 2.8 per cent of Malaysia’s estimated GDP of USD714 billion (RM3.2 trillion), which equates to a staggering USD20.15 billion.
Meanwhile, the health care impact of overweight individuals is estimated at USD2.19 billion.
The average projections for obesity prevalence in various regions and income groups, as provided by RTI International, are based on national data that has been weighted by the respective countries’ population sizes. The United States-based RTI International is also responsible for generating projections related to GDP, as well as estimating the economic repercussions of ill-health and lost productivity.
The World Obesity Federation’s latest atlas predicts that by 2035, more than four billion people – constituting over half of the global population – will suffer from obesity or being overweight. The report highlights a significant increase in obesity rates among children and in countries with lower economic statuses.
If the current trajectory continues and policies fail to address the issue, the cost of obesity could surge globally, with a projected economic impact of US$4.32 trillion annually due to a high BMI.
As the research shows, this is equivalent to roughly 3 per cent of global GDP, similar to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, or the growth of the economy in a year. The latest figures mark an increase from USD1.96 trillion, or 2.4 per cent of global GDP, in 2020.
World Obesity Federation president Prof Louise Baur said the 2023 Atlas serves as a clear warning that overlooking the issue of obesity today could lead to severe consequences in the future.
“It is particularly worrying to see obesity rates rising fastest among children and adolescents. Governments and policymakers around the world need to do all they can to avoid passing health, social, and economic costs on to the younger generation.
“That means looking urgently at the systems and root factors that contribute to obesity, and actively involving young people in the solutions. If we act together now, we have the opportunity to help billions of people in the future.”