Educate School Children On Health As Part Of National Strategy To Tackle NCDs — MMA

Health should not be just a test or examination subject, but be embraced as part of an overall lifestyle. 

The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) urges the government to prioritise early education on the importance of healthy habits as part of a national strategy to encourage a healthy lifestyle among Malaysians and prevent further increases in cases of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

More drastic preventative measures are needed, as a high number of NCD cases can have an impact on the country’s productivity, put a strain on the health care system, and increase health care costs. We need to start thinking of the health of the younger generation and stop NCDs before they happen. 

Child obesity, which was almost unheard of 40 or 50 years ago, is now a national health issue. According to the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS), 14.8 per cent of children aged between 5 and 17 were found to be obese, which is a significant increase from the 6.1 per cent reported in 2011.

More alarmingly, based on the 2015 NHMS, 1.65 million Malaysian school children are expected to be overweight or obese by 2025.  

It is crucial to cultivate healthy habits in children during their formative years, ensuring that they carry these habits into adulthood, where a health-conscious lifestyle becomes ingrained. As children spend a fair amount of time at school, this would be the ideal platform for them to pick up healthy habits. 

As part of a national strategy to prevent NCDs, the MMA proposes that the Ministry of Health (MOH), together with the Ministry of Education (MOE), work towards a comprehensive policy to educate children (from kindergarten to secondary school) on the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle.

Health should not be just a test or examination subject, but be embraced as part of an overall lifestyle. 

The comprehensive policy to educate children on health should include:

1. Promoting Healthy Eating Habits

  • A total ban on junk foods and processed foods at schools. 
  • Educating and training of school canteen operators and cooks on the preparation of healthy and nutritious meals. 
  • Basic nutrition education.  
  • Include calorie and nutrition information on food sold at school canteens.
  • Weight management with monitoring of BMI (Body Mass Index) 

2. Health Education 

  • Education on healthy lifestyle habits, including the importance and benefits of healthy eating, regular exercise, proper rest, daily physical activity, social interaction, personal hygiene and a healthy environment. 

3. Promoting Active Lifestyles 

  • Daily full body workouts and physical exercises as part of the school timetable.
  • Encourage school children to take up at least one physical sport or join a sports club (not including e-sports). 
  • Develop a whole-of-school policy that encourages students, heads of schools, teachers and other staff members to be physically active.
  • Provide a school environment that encourages being physically active, including access to football fields, badminton courts, running tracks, etc.). Corporate organisations can also lend their support as part of corporate social responsibility programmes, if there is limited funding for facilities. 

For a successful outcome, parents will have the most important role to play in supporting their child’s healthy development. We therefore urge the government to consider including programmes and activities that involve parents.  

Dr Muruga Raj Rajathurai is president of the Malaysian Medical Association.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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