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Malaysia’s obesity epidemic: experts say education key to counter prediction most children will be overweight by 2035

Malaysia’s government needs to drive a revolution in healthy eating habits and exercise to reverse a stark obesity trend, health experts say, as a global survey projected that more than two out of every three children in the country will be overweight by 2035.

That estimate is based on new data released last week by the World Obesity Foundation, And while Malaysia faces one of the more dire predictions, the data suggests obesity is set to surge across the globe, despite a World Health Organization campaign launched a decade ago to combat it.

In Malaysia, suggested solutions to the obesity epidemic have included restricting the operating hours of hugely popular 24-hour mamak restaurants, which serve cheap but calorie-dense foods like roti canai – a popular pan-fried flatbread.

But such a draconian move would not address the fundamental causes of the trend, which are closely tied to bad habits formed during childhood, according to Azizan Abdul Aziz, the president of the Malaysian Medical Association.

“Education should be our main focus, with regular community based programmes. We have not been doing enough in this area. Government awareness campaigns have not been effective enough to influence behavioural or lifestyle changes,” Azizan told This Week in Asia.

“Participation in sports or exercise should be emphasised or encouraged from an early age, in schools during children’s habit-forming years, for it to become part of lifestyles to remain active in adulthood.”

An April proposal by the Consumers Association of Penang to combat obesity by shutting down the country’s ubiquitous mamak restaurants was broadly panned by Malaysians, who argued that the eateries are a national institution that serve the needs of the many.