Offer healthy fast food

LETTERS: Work was stressful, it's late and you are tired. Fast-food drive-through outlets are the most convenient and easiest choice.

In our study of the geographical clustering of body mass index (BMI) among adults in Malaysia, clusters of high BMI among men were found in suburban areas with moderate and high access to fast-food restaurants

As most men were employed, they tend to spend more time outside with long working hours, where eating-out and greater processed food intake have become inevitable.

This, coupled with greater access to restaurants, lowers the frequency of home-cooking.

When eating away from home, dining decisions tend to be spontaneous, quick, influenced by appetite, financial constraints and whether the environment facilitates spending toward healthy or unhealthy diets.

The availability, accessibility and affordability of unhealthy foods make eating unhealthily easier and reinforces its preferences and demands, thus creating a vicious cycle of an unhealthy environment where the appetite control system is de-sensitised.

Therefore, weight management can be challenging in an environment that belittles the willpower to eat healthily.

In Malaysia, fast-food consumption was prevalent among rural (32.7 per cent, once a month), suburban (17.4 per cent at least once a week) and urban (25 per cent more than four times per month) communities , especially among university students.

At the same time, only five per cent of our population eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily as recommended.

Habitual fast-food consumption was associated with taste preference for fried and sweet foods, higher caloric intake, higher intake of sugary beverages and lower intake of wholegrain, fruits and vegetables, throughout the remainder of the day and even on a non-fast-food day.

Meals from fast-food restaurants were mostly high in calories, fats, including trans-fatty acids and salt, where beverages were the largest driver of differences in calories.

Frequent and long-term consumption of these foods strengthened the expression of obesity-related genetic variants and increases the risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

Besides chronic inflammation, fast food consumption also impairs the host's defence against viruses, increasing the risk for severe Covid-19 morbidity and mortality.

Therefore, in conjunction with World Obesity Day last Saturday, let us all focus on creating a healthier food environment. Besides fast-food franchises, all restaurants are also responsible. Here are some recommendations:

Fast-food industry should make healthier options available at all times, eg. corn, fruits and vegetable salads, low fat milk, wholemeal buns, granola, plain water, non-caloric beverages, etc.

Restaurants must reduce the amount of sugar and salt used in their food preparation, besides offering fruits, vegetables, and whole grain on the menu; and

Customers must make their demand for healthier food choices known to the industry.

Obesity is a public health war that we cannot afford to lose. It takes collaborative effort to fight this great challenge.


Faculty of Medicine

Universiti Malaya

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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