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ATTENTION: Malaysia, Fattest Nation in Asia with Alarming Childhood Obesity Crisis

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According to the Ministry of Health Malaysia, prevalence of childhood obesity in Malaysia increased from 6.1% in 2011 to 11.9% in 2015, and it is estimated to increase more in upcoming years [5]. In 2019, 29.8% of children aged 5 to 17 years old are either overweight of obese [7]. Children with one overweight parent tends to have four to five-fold higher risk of resulting in obese adults, cases would be worsen with both parents being overweight or obese [3]. Prevalence of adulthood obesity has been increasing since 2011 according to the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS), remaining as the top among the Southeast Asian countries (from 2011 with 44.2% to 2015 with 47.3%). And disturbing news is that more than 30% of adults who are bearing children are either overweight or obese [3].

Though body fatness may be inherited from parents, however, exogenous obesity among children is the leading cause due to external factors [2]. For example, fast foods culture, milk tea trends, physically inactive, sedentary lifestyles and more. It is crucial to maintain the balance between calories consumed and calories used to manage one’s weight and overall health [2]. As overweight and obesity comes with several health complications as children aged, such as diabetes, menstrual problems, high blood pressure and others including disability and mortality [6].

Maintaining a healthy weight is the key point to reduce high overweight and obesity among children [1]. But how can it be done? Following are some tips: 

  1. Limit sedentary lifestyles
  • To ensure calories balanced, what is eaten must be expended. Setting time limitations for online games and screening time, at most 2 hours daily. This can minimize the physically inactive period and lower the food advertisements children are exposed to [8]. Parents are encouraged to conduct family activities together during evening time or weekends, not only to promote health but also to enhance the relationship with one and another by showing support [2]. Such as using the staircase instead of elevators or lifts.
  1. Exercise regularly
  • Exercises and activities regularly help in energy expenditure by utilizing the nutrients in our body, and strengthen one’s bones and muscles [6]. Allocate 30 minutes- 1 hour a day to exercise or participate in exercise training such as swimming, yoga, dancing or others are able to burn off excess energy consumed [2,4]. Attention of parents towards children’s lifestyles by setting fitness targets based on their physical ability and preferences.
  1. 5 servings of fruits and vegetables [6]
  • Start small and train children to consume at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day and minimize picky eating habits. These foods are high in nutrients and provide a sense of satiety which prevent children from overeating of energy dense foods. Parents may start by preparing meals with several vegetables that their children prefer and introduce some new vegetables alongside [2]. Other than that, lower the frequency of introducing unhealthy eating like fast foods and fried foods to children. 
  1. Avoid meal skipping
  • Maintain a fixed number of meals daily and train one’s children to eat in all meals [10]. This will ensure children’s balanced nutrient intake, avoid hunger that promotes overconsumption in the next meal. Also prevent one’s children from snacking with packaged foods and sweetened beverages [2]. 
  1. Eat at home, meals taken along with family
  • Prepare home-cooked meals, control portions of high energy foods and balance with fruits, vegetables and proteins [4, 8]. Minimize the distraction during mealtime and allow children to focus on their foods. Children will then notice their satiety feel and stop ingesting foods, as watching any electronic devices may alter emotions that lead to emotional eating [2].
  1. Parental self efficacy and food selection
  • Parents as the role model of children, they will try to mimic the behavior and practice of their parents. For example, parents’ common food preferences and choices tend to influence the food acceptance of their children as well. If parents consume sugary drinks and unhealthy diets frequently, children will follow the eating habits as well. Hence, it is important for parents to develop good and healthy eating patterns and food choices. Parents’ communication with children increases children’s acceptability of foods as well [9].

References:

  1. Alagappan, M., Lekhraj, R., and Zalilah, M., S., 2019. Prevalence of overweight/obesity and its associated factors among secondary school students in semi urban area in Malaysia. Medical Journal of Malaysia, 74(6), pp.513-520. 
  2. Hong, Y., H., J., 2014. Childhood Obesity. [Online] Available at: http://www.myhealth.gov.my/en/childhood-obesity/ [Accessed 5 Oct 2020] 
  3. Jenny, I., L., A., and Murni, N., 2019. Childhood Obesity A Growing Health Crisis In Malaysia. [Online] Available at: https://umsc.my/umsc_news/childhood-obesity-a-growing-health-crisis-in-malaysia/ [Accessed 5 Oct 2020]
  4. Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity, n.d.. Childhood Obesity. Strategy for the Prevention of Obesity- Malaysia.
  5. Malaysian Healthcare Performance Unit, 2020. Malaysian Health at a Glance: 2018. Ministry of Health Malaysia.
  6. Ministry of Health Malaysia, 2020. Management of Obesity In Childhood. Health Technology Assessment Report.
  7. National Health and Morbidity Survey, 2019. Fact Sheet: Non-communicable diseases, healthcare demand and health literacy. National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019.
  8. Sherina, M., S., and Rozali, A., 2004. Childhood Obesity: Contributing Factors, Consequences and Intervention. Malaysian Journal of Nutrition, 10(1), pp.13-22.
  9. Suhaimi, N., A., Zaliha, H. and Rozali, H., 2017. A Study of The Role of Parents and the Prevalence of Childhood Obesity. Journal of Administrative Science, Special Edition: Socio-Economic Issue, 14(3), pp. 1-14.
  10. World Health Organization, 2019. Sugary drinks tax important first step, but obesity in Malaysia demands further action. [Online] Available at: https://www.who.int/malaysia/news/commentaries/detail/sugary-drinks-tax-important-first-step-but-obesity-in-malaysia-demands-further-action [Accessed 5 Oct 2020]

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