IT is a flab-bergasting fact. One in every five adult Malaysians is either overweight or obese. The sudden spurt in the incidence of obesity may well lend it the infamous distinction as the century''s leading national health problem.
Obesity is simply an excess of body fat. It is a contributing cause of many preventable physical maladies. It increases the body''s resistance to insulin and susceptibility to infection and puts one at a higher risk for developing coronary artery disease, diabetes, gallbladder disease, high blood pressure, kidney problem and stroke.
Statistics indicate that obesity is a high-risk national malaise. Around 7.9 per cent of the nation''s obese adult population are women and 4.7 per cent are men. It is a malaise that has not spared the armed forces personnel for many are spotted on duty with big bellies, some jutting out from behind the shrubs and bridge columns along the highways and thus, a reliable warning of a speed trap. This may well be construed as, a sign of development as the shift from infectious diseases to lifestyle diseases implies a certain level of material affluence. Decades ago, preventable ailments were seen as a rich man''s disease and common only to developed countries. But today, the situation is reversed.
The prevalence of non-communicable diseases is rapidly rising in developing countries. According to the World Health Organisation, some 79 per cent of the deaths due to such diseases currently occurred in the developing countries and, these countries would see over 100 per cent rise in coronary deaths during 1990-2020. Apart from hereditary factors and endoctrinal disorders, the chief culprit of obesity is a combination of unhealthy eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle. Statistics show that every year globally, around two million deaths are attributed to physical inactivity. Most people indulge in static mental exercise such as surfing the internet, watching the television and reading in Malaysia''s case, even the latter is not pursued and hence, the unflattering impression of a nation of corpulent and mentally-lazy slobs. The fast-food revolution and the carbohydrate-laden two-minute noodles as convenient substitutes for wholesome food also contribute to weight gain.
Clearly, it is imperative that the Government prioritises disease prevention and health promotion. The Health Ministry''s Healthy Lifestyle campaign must be complemented by effective measures to promote physical activity since factors such as environment, sports and recreational amenities influenced people''s inclination in this direction. There must be rational planning since measures such as the creation of protected cyclists'' lane would aspire people to take up cycling. Obesity clinics should be set up in all public hospitals.
If Malaysians are getting fatter, it does not mean they have stopped trying to lose weight. Businesses have cottoned on to the demands for a slim, trim figure by churning out fat-busting products from the frontiers of alternative medicine. And since these products do not need time-consuming approvals from the drug control authorities, they score hugely over allopathic drugs. Thus, the market is inundated by slimming pills and salons.
Alas, there is no quick fix for obesity. Not all the contents of slimming pills can be totally vouched for. Those with banned substances are lethal, causing death or damaged internal organs. Diets such as the high-protein diet, grapefruit diet and cabbage soup diet will bring about temporary weight loss, but some is likely to be simple water loss. When any diet excludes a wide variety of whole foods or prescribes mainly one food as the miracle diet substance, eventually one''s health is going to suffer. The only intelligent way to lose weight and maintain it is through a well-balanced diet, exercise and prescribed drugs.
All individuals have the weapon to fight obesity: living a healthy lifestyle. Indeed, lifestyle choices have never been more important in determining the outcome of a national problem and in eliminating a national image of indolent fatsos.
- New Straits Times (7-Jul-2002)