Malaysia’s obesity crisis: Time for less talk and more funding for action

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

The president of the Nutrition Society of Malaysia, Dr E-Siong Tee.
The president of the Nutrition Society of Malaysia, Dr E-Siong Tee.

Related tags Food vision asia Obesity

“We’re good at publishing obesity plans, but not funding action”: That’s how the president of the Nutrition Society of Malaysia Dr E-Siong Tee has described his country’s efforts at improving health in a nation where one-in-two adults are overweight or obese.

Speaking at our Food Vision Asia summit in Singapore, he underlined the scale of the problem in the country.

“In Malaysia the problem is worse than in many other parts of Asia,”​ he said.

“Every other adult is overweight or obese; 30% of school children overweight or obese; and so are 15% of toddlers. Under nutrition is not so much of a problem, but we still have 7% of infants who are stunted.”

While Malaysia is now experiencing the economic and social burden of obesity, Dr Ti said there had not yet been a willingness to fund plans to tackle it.

He referred to several national plans that had been published, but said very few had led to coherent public policy initiatives.

“We are good at launching plans, but we must be serious about implementing them,”​ he said during a roundtable session featuring fellow members of the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN) and chaired by its secretariat Bruno Kistner.

“There is a major financial obstacle because there are no dedicated funds to implement these plans.

“There are strategies for government, NGOs and private companies, but only piecemeal budgets,”​ he added.

Rural strategy

A key concern highlight was the lack of qualified nutritionists on the ground, especially in rural areas where the prevalence of obesity and related conditions such as diabetes is as high as it is in urban areas.

“The people in the countryside are not getting the messages,”​ he added.

“We need more nutritionists to speak to the grassroots because we can’t just rely on doctors. We no longer need the government to say it’s important, we need the money to actually actt.”

Fellow panellists, including Dr Mario Capanzana, the director of the Food & Nutrition Research Institute of the Philippines, debated the importance of public-private partnerships to achieve nutritional improvements.

“The private sector has a very big role to play, and we believe together we are starting to address the issue squarely,”​ said Dr Capanza.

I encourage our partners in the food industry to get involved and companies can get tax reductions for helping.”

Kistner added it was vital organisations such as ARoFIIN brought together governments and the private sector to address Asia’s obesity and diabetes problems.

“There are 19m children stunted in Asia and 10m obese,"​ he said.

“For the under-fives alone obesity rates are growing by 25-40% a year. These issues can only be tackled through partnerships and collaboration.”

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