SHAH ALAM: ANEW set of policies to build a healthier Malaysia is currently being put in place.
The move behind the introduction of a list of initiatives is aimed at fighting the rising trend of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) among Malaysians.
The New Straits Times has learnt that the policies will, among others, seek to limit restaurants and eateries’ operating hours to 12am. This move will be carried out in stages.
They also seek to impose excise tax on sweetened beverages and exempt sports equipment from import duties.
To promote a healthier lifestyle, gym operators would be exempted from paying corporate tax. Privately-owned playgrounds, sports complexes, academies and centres will also enjoy this benefit.
Employees in the civil service may want to take the introduction of these policies seriously as one of the key policies calls for the level of NCDs risk to be taken into account, not only during the hiring process but also in determining promotions, or in performance evaluation.
The policies also cover the ban on advertisements on food and drinks with high fat, salt and sugar content that could lure children into buying them. Such ads will be regulated under the Malaysian Advertising Code, which is under the Communications and Multimedia Act.
For newly-launched housing areas, it will be mandatory for them to promote a “green neighbourhood”, including providing bicycle lanes in their developments.
Hiking areas that have not been gazetted will be marked as conservation areas.
The policies are also aimed at cultivating the habit of eating fruits and vegetables. This will be begin at the school level and community, as well as the workplace.
The policies will see efforts in the war against smoking heightened, with calls to strengthen control and enforcement against the sale and distribution of illegal cigarettes. In the pipeline are the mQuit (quit smoking) programmes in public and private varsities.
Other areas include the carrying out of national-level health campaigns that will focus on NCDs and ensuring that schools serve only nutritious food to students.
NCDs account for 73 per cent of total deaths in Malaysia, with hypertension, diabetes and heart problems being the main killers. They are widely linked to unhealthy lifestyles, such as smoking, unhealthy diets and lack of exercise.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said he would see to it that campaigns to promote a healthier nation were carried out effectively.
He and his ministry were responsible in drawing up the key policies to address the country’s health issues.
The spirit behind the introduction of the policies stemmed from the lack of such policies or interventions available to tackle NCDs.
Their introduction aims to help the country achieve its Sustainable Development Goal target of ensuring healthy lives for all, as well as the Millennium Development Goals of reducing mortality.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had on Friday said 13 policies on a healthy living environment were discussed by the Cabinet Committee for a Health-Promoting Environment for implementation in 2018 and 2019.
The National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2015, among others, showed that 17.5 per cent of those aged 18 and above, or 17.5 per cent of the 3.5 million total, had diabetes.
In addition, one in three (30 per cent), or about 6.1 million people had hypertension. Almost half of the population (47.7 per cent) or about 9.6 million people had high cholesterol levels.
The prevalence of obesity was on the rise, with about 17.7 per cent (3.3 million) adults being obese, and about one out of three being overweight.
The survey showed that 94 per cent of Malaysian adults did not eat enough fruits and vegetables. Kedah has the highest, and Melaka the lowest number of those who consume inadequate amounts of such food items.
Zahid had said NCDs such as diabetes, hypertension, hyper-cholesterolemia and obesity had shown an increasing trend, leading to higher cost of treatment in the country.
Intervention for children, he said, was important to promote an active lifestyle and healthy diet in the later part of their lives.
He said although the Health Ministry was to receive a RM27 billion allocation under Budget 2018, the sum would not be sufficient to accommodate the burden of NCDs in the long term, if preventive measures against these chronic diseases were not carried out.