Malaysian government urged to counter excessive ingestion of unhealthy food

Photo: CAP

Visitors at the Penang Hospital learn about good eating habits when they stroll through the healthy lifestyle exhibition organized by the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) that ends on Friday 20. The event is aimed to raise awareness on the consumption of foods rich in sugar, fat, salt and chemicals that led to obesity among Malaysians. Some worrying trends: Malaysians are the eight highest sugar users in the world, they are getting used to keep awake till late and meat is fast becoming a staple food.

“Malaysia recorded the most number of overweight and obese in Asia, so we are bringing this healthy lifestyle campaign nationwide to other states such as Kuala Lumpur and Perak. CAP is targeting some 10,000 visitors to the campaign over the duration of the event,” CAP president S.M. Mohamed Idris told reporters, as reported The Star newspaper.

CAP called on consumers to keep away from products that damage health and to carry on a healthy lifestyle. The consumption of unhealthy foods rich in sugar, fat, salt and chemicals and the modern sedentary lifestyle of Malaysians have led to steep rises in non-communicable diseases.

The latest statistics from Ministry of Health showed that more than 17 million Malaysians or 60.7 per cent of the population are currently living with non-communicable disease with many more undiagnosed.

Malaysia has the most number of overweight and obese people in Asia: 54% of adult Malaysians are either obese or overweight, compared to only 24.1% ten years ago. Among youngsters, 38% aged between 12-18 are classified as overweight. As a result seven out of 10 Malaysian adults suffer from chronic diseases.

Obesity can lead to chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease and even cancer.

To achieve a healthy society, CAP launched its Healthy Lifestyle Campaign to promote healthy eating habits and urge consumers to avoid unhealthy foods, especially processed ones. In relation to this campaign CAP organized the Health Exhibition at the Penang General Hospital.

The exhibition highlights the problems related to high sugar, salt and trans-fat intake. It also looks at cancer-causing chemicals in cosmetics and other important health issues.

The exhibition also shows which products have high dangerous ingredients thus helping consumers to avoid such products.

High sugar intake causes obesity and aggravates diabetes. Malaysians consume 26 teaspoons of sugar a day and are the eighth highest sugar users in the world.

In another worrying trend, meat is fast becoming a staple-diet in Malaysia. A diet rich in red meat causes cancer and high cholesterol which leads to cardio-vascular disease.

More Malaysians are keeping awake till late to indulge in what is becoming a top national pastime – tucking it in at 24-hour eating joints. Most 24-hour restaurants serve food that is high in fat, calories and cholesterol. These shops have sprouted up all over the country to satisfy the cravings of Malaysians who are gorging on calorie-packed late night meals with hardly a care – and getting obese in the process. As the metabolic rate is very low at night it makes it easier for fat to accumulate in the body.

In view of the high prevalence of non-communicable disease in Malaysia, CAP urged the government to:

■ Ban the use of High Fructose Corn Syrup as a cheap and unhealthy substitute for sugar.

■ Create stringent guidelines to reduce fat, sugar and salt in food products.

■ Require manufacturers to label clearly the amount of sugar, fats and salt in their food. A traffic light rating system for these ingredients should be mandated.

■ Stop the advertisements of highly-sugared and other junk food and drinks during children’s television viewing hours.

■ Ban the sale of junk food in school canteens and food hawking within a fixed perimeter around schools so that school children are not tempted to purchase unhealthy food.

■ Initiate the removal of vending machines dispensing junk food and sugary drinks from areas such as hospitals, airports and schools. Instead provide drinking water in water dispensers at these places.

■ Stop the issuing of licences to eateries to operate for 24 hours.

Consumers are also advised to refrain from eating unhealthy foods and to engage in physical activities to avoid being obese.

The Star :