Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand all face an exponential increase in their obesity rates.
Growth in incomes, sluggish lifestyle and Western fatty fast food consumption are the main factors that contribute to obesity in a region that has for long opted to undereat rather than overeat.
Malaysia is putting together ways to create awareness about obesity being a potential health threat as part of its national strategic plan for non-communicable disease (NCD). Obesity is identified as the primary cause of NCDs, such as diabetes, stroke, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases.
"A population with a high burden of NCDs ... will affect productivity and ultimately negatively impact our economic development," Chong Chee Kheong, director of disease control at the Ministry of Health in Malaysia, told Reuters.
Malaysia recently hosted the 12th International Congress on Obesity (ICO), where a discussion was held on ways to address increasing obesity rates before they turn out to be an unmanageable public health issue that will gobble millions for reversal. Obesity, Kehong says, is a high priority NCD now, as every one of two adults in Malaysia is overweight or obese, according to a Reuters report.
The Malaysian Government also hosted this year's 'Nutrition Month Malaysia' with 'Eat right, move more: Fight Obesity' as its theme. This included various activities such as family carnival celebrations, handing out of 'Fight Obesity' Guidebook and educational booklets and publishing of a series of educational articles in the major newspapers and magazines.
On the other hand, the Singapore Government is doling out an incentive-based weight management program to its residents with the target of collaboratively losing 1 million kgs (2.2 million lb) over the next three years. It has also launched "healthy living master plan and food strategy" aimed at helping roughly 700 food outlets serve meals with less than 500 calories.
The Singapore Health Promotion Board is propagating the significance of maintaining a healthy body-mass-index, (BMI) though the veracity of BMI in youngsters is disputed in countries like the United States and United Kingdom.
Public housing blocks display signboards persuading people to avoid using stairs and to use the lift instead, and childcare centers have switched from white rice to fat-burning brown rice.
The Thai Promotion Health Foundation (TPHF) too has set its ball rolling on tackling obesity. It has imposed a ban on sale of soft drinks at state schools. A tax on sweet food is also in the offing, if the proposal musters the required support, according to Reuters.
"The latest number in 2012 showed about 17 million Thais suffered from obesity ... the number continues to rise by four million people a year," Krisada told Reuters.
"I think every government is at various stages of realization that prevention is better than cure," said Simon Flint, the Asia CEO of gym chain operator Fitness First, which is fast expanding in the region.
A recent study published by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) reveals that out of 188 countries included in the study, not one country has succeeded in decreasing its obesity rate in nearly 33 years.
Southeast Asia, a region with some of the thinnest people in the world, is also included in the list, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the major crusader against obesity. As per the WHO, obesity not only exists in developed countries, but also exists in "epidemic" proportions in developing countries, which lack proper nutritional education. However, the WHO gives the least priority to the issue of obesity in Southeast Asia by merging it with its general agenda against all noncommunicable diseases (NCD).