Malaysia: Better public education against obesity

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Tan Sri Ismail
Tan Sri Ismail Bin Merican, former Director General in the Malaysian Health Ministry and Pro Chancellor of MAHSA College

Malaysia is the most obese nation in ASEAN and is witnessing a dramatic rise in other non-communicable diseases. Inside Investor asks Tan Sri Ismail Bin Merican, the former Director General in the Malaysian Health Ministry and Pro Chancellor of MAHSA College what are the country’s greatest challenges to education the public in nutritional health.

Q: What is the largest issue facing the deployment of nutritional guidelines today in Malaysia?

A: The Ministry of Health has come out with a national strategy plan to address non-communicable diseases (NCD), which has become a large focus now. Being a developing country that is in transition, we are getting a lot more cases of diabetes, hypertension, cancer and obesity. We hope to launch efforts to make the public more aware of NCDs, alongside help from the Ministry of Health and other ministries. The assistance from other ministries is crucial, because it cannot be sole a task of the Ministry of Health. In order for education aiming to encourage more exercise to work, there has to be places for such activities. If you want the public to seek out private gyms more, there has to be greater incentives to join them. In this sense, private companies, NGOs and civil society all have to show added effort. Behavioral change if difficult, and can only succeed if it is worked towards from multiple perspectives. Going forward, we want embark on serious research to look at the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) diseases in the Malaysian population to access the actually occurrence of NCDs in the country, which are rising rapidly. The study will eventually run throughout the whole Asia-Pacific region, not just Malaysia. We have a special symposium coming up in June 2013 that will highlight obesity, as well as how to manage NAFL diseases.

Q: Do you believe that NCDs have an adverse effect on the economy?

A: Certainly. Those who are afflicted by NCDs have a much lower productivity rate, and end up being a larger burden on the healthcare system. In order to reverse this trend, we have to work towards prevention.

Q: What is your largest challenge in nutritional education?

A: Apathy. Public apathy. You see cases of NCDs everyday on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, especially fast food establishments and mamaks. In the holy season of Ramadan, it is tradition to not eat during the day. But when the sun sets, many Malaysians will put together large mountains of food on a plate. This too is not a healthy choice and a hard cultural tradition to change. The general rule of thumb I give my patients is this: Everything in moderation.

Q: What is the largest technological hurdle you face in nutrition education, especially with younger students?

A: I feel strongly that we have to start nutritional education at a young age, because often the youngsters are looking up to their parents, who don’t always have the best diets. In reality, there are not quick-fix solutions. You cannot expect people to change mentalities overnight. One way to disseminate the message is to hire an influential person. Someone like Michelle Obama is a great example of a role model who has tackled societal problems. The idea is that the message has to be fun, and a popular person has a way of imbuing it with such characteristics.

Q: In the US, some schools have switched from candy bars to healthier options in vending machines. Has that been implemented here?

A: We have tried posting calories to see if people would change diets, and the programme had little effect. It comes down to the sad truth that people just are not interested. People will eat what they want, and food companies in return will supply the calories that the market demands.

 

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Tan Sri Ismail Bin Merican, former Director General in the Malaysian Health Ministry and Pro Chancellor of MAHSA College

Malaysia is the most obese nation in ASEAN and is witnessing a dramatic rise in other non-communicable diseases. Inside Investor asks Tan Sri Ismail Bin Merican, the former Director General in the Malaysian Health Ministry and Pro Chancellor of MAHSA College what are the country’s greatest challenges to education the public in nutritional health.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Tan Sri Ismail
Tan Sri Ismail Bin Merican, former Director General in the Malaysian Health Ministry and Pro Chancellor of MAHSA College

Malaysia is the most obese nation in ASEAN and is witnessing a dramatic rise in other non-communicable diseases. Inside Investor asks Tan Sri Ismail Bin Merican, the former Director General in the Malaysian Health Ministry and Pro Chancellor of MAHSA College what are the country’s greatest challenges to education the public in nutritional health.

Q: What is the largest issue facing the deployment of nutritional guidelines today in Malaysia?

A: The Ministry of Health has come out with a national strategy plan to address non-communicable diseases (NCD), which has become a large focus now. Being a developing country that is in transition, we are getting a lot more cases of diabetes, hypertension, cancer and obesity. We hope to launch efforts to make the public more aware of NCDs, alongside help from the Ministry of Health and other ministries. The assistance from other ministries is crucial, because it cannot be sole a task of the Ministry of Health. In order for education aiming to encourage more exercise to work, there has to be places for such activities. If you want the public to seek out private gyms more, there has to be greater incentives to join them. In this sense, private companies, NGOs and civil society all have to show added effort. Behavioral change if difficult, and can only succeed if it is worked towards from multiple perspectives. Going forward, we want embark on serious research to look at the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) diseases in the Malaysian population to access the actually occurrence of NCDs in the country, which are rising rapidly. The study will eventually run throughout the whole Asia-Pacific region, not just Malaysia. We have a special symposium coming up in June 2013 that will highlight obesity, as well as how to manage NAFL diseases.

Q: Do you believe that NCDs have an adverse effect on the economy?

A: Certainly. Those who are afflicted by NCDs have a much lower productivity rate, and end up being a larger burden on the healthcare system. In order to reverse this trend, we have to work towards prevention.

Q: What is your largest challenge in nutritional education?

A: Apathy. Public apathy. You see cases of NCDs everyday on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, especially fast food establishments and mamaks. In the holy season of Ramadan, it is tradition to not eat during the day. But when the sun sets, many Malaysians will put together large mountains of food on a plate. This too is not a healthy choice and a hard cultural tradition to change. The general rule of thumb I give my patients is this: Everything in moderation.

Q: What is the largest technological hurdle you face in nutrition education, especially with younger students?

A: I feel strongly that we have to start nutritional education at a young age, because often the youngsters are looking up to their parents, who don’t always have the best diets. In reality, there are not quick-fix solutions. You cannot expect people to change mentalities overnight. One way to disseminate the message is to hire an influential person. Someone like Michelle Obama is a great example of a role model who has tackled societal problems. The idea is that the message has to be fun, and a popular person has a way of imbuing it with such characteristics.

Q: In the US, some schools have switched from candy bars to healthier options in vending machines. Has that been implemented here?

A: We have tried posting calories to see if people would change diets, and the programme had little effect. It comes down to the sad truth that people just are not interested. People will eat what they want, and food companies in return will supply the calories that the market demands.

 

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