Waistlines are expanding in Malaysia. With just over 15 percent of the adult Malaysian population suffering from obesity, Malaysia has now become the 6th fattest country in Asia and the fattest in South East Asia. Worst of all, this actually marks an increase from 14% in 2006, suggesting that the obesity issue is still far from under control.

Malaysia

Malaysia has 2.6 million obese adults

According to the Health Ministry, 2.6 million adults in Malaysia are now classified as obese, while some 477,000 children are now classified as overweight. It should come as no surprise then that last November the health ministry also reported a rapid rise in diabetes among children.

Rising obesity rates are due to both a lack of exercise and poor dietary habits. A recent Oxfam study entitled “Good Enough to Eat” showed that food was in plentiful supply but food choices are not nutritionally diverse. Malaysia also suffers from higher than average food prices, which may encourage people to eat cheap junk foods.

Obesity is a global problem

While Malaysia may be the fattest country in South East Asia, it still lags far behind many Western nations. Interestingly, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency Malaysia does not even rank in the top 100 fattest nations.

In Mexico, 32.8% of adults are obese, while in the United States 31.8% are labeled the same. In the Pacific, New Zealand suffers from an obesity rate of 26.5%, while Australia’s rate has hit 24.6%. In general, developed countries often suffer from higher obesity rates, likely due to the abundance and low costs of food.

Obesity is now becoming a major issue for many countries around the world. Given the higher costs associated with caring for grossly overweight individuals, the issue is not one that governments can afford to overlook. With governments often footing the bill for health care, the increased prevalence of diabetes and other complications from being extremely overweight add up very quickly.

Obesity is also increasingly a problem for Malaysia’s neighbors. In Singapore, obesity rates jumped from 6.9 percent in to 10.8 percent in 2013. In 2008, nearly 9 percent of Thailand’s citizens suffered from obesity.

Malaysian government won’t “skip” the issue

Now, Malaysia must tackle a first world problem, while still struggling to achieve fully developed status. The government is now working with various NGOs to encourage Malaysians to get off their couches and to put down their electronic devices. The first major initiative will be to encourage people to “skip rope” and engage in other physical activities.

Getting people to exercise and eat healthy, however, has proven problematic for just about every government that has tried to tackle the issue. The proliferation of electronic devices, the increasingly likelihood that people will work from behind a desk, and the low costs of junk food have all converged to make obesity a tough issue to tackle.