(File pix) People’s love of food and culture or serving food to guests contribute to the problem

MALAYSIA has the dubious honour of having the highest obesity prevalence in Southeast Asia.

This was based on Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Tackling Obesity in Asean” report, which covered Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The report said in Malaysia, the prevalence of obesity was at 13.3 per cent, while overweight was at 38.5 per cent.

The Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (Arofiin) secretariat Bruno Kistner, who presented the report yesterday, said last year, the condition had cost the country between RM4.26 billion and RM8.53 billion.

“That is equivalent to 10 to 19 per cent of Malaysia’s healthcare spending.”

Malaysia had the largest number of productive years lost because of obesity among females, which was between seven and 12 years, and the second highest among males at between six and 11 years.

“The report showed that only a third of Malaysian adults had ever exercised, while only 14 per cent exercised adequately.

“There are factors like Malaysians’ love for food and their strong culture of entertaining guests with food that contributed to the obesity problem.”

Nutrition Society of Malaysia’s president Dr Tee E. Siong, who was present yesterday, said the emphasis on academic excellence had resulted in additional tuition hours and academic work among children, to the detriment of physical activities.

“More critically, Malaysians view obesity as a cosmetic issue rather than a health issue.”

The report showed that obesity rates varied depending on ethnicity, genetic, regional and economic differences.

“It underscores the need for carefully tailored obesity prevention strategies, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Stakeholders and policymakers need to identify at-risk communities to develop smarter policies and more targeted interventions.”