Health

Obesity in South-east Asia

03:33 SGT July 13, 2017
Obesity
Obesity to pose an economic burden for the region

By Mili Semlani

A growing concern globally, obesity is a major cause for serious diseases; including type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke, and a range of chronic diseases including musculoskeletal disorders. Commonly seen as an affluent nation problem, obesity is linked to a number of factors — rising incomes, urbanisation, shifting lifestyles and genetic factors.

While countries like the UK and the US have been fighting it for over a decade now, developing countries in South-east Asia are no exception to it. For some of the food-scarce countries in this region, the coexistence of obesity and undernutrition will place a greater strain on their public health systems.

According to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the
number of obese adults in South-east Asia increased at a faster rate than
that of the UK and the US between 2010 and 2014.

Not only is obesity reducing productive (working) life by an average of four to nine years in South-east Asia but it is also contributing to an increased risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. “South-east Asia is already facing an epidemic of chronic, noncommunicable diseases, which now account for 60% of deaths in the region,” said Zee Yoong Kang, chief executive officer, Health Promotion Board (Singapore), in the official ARoFIIN launch video presented at the Second ARoFIIN Roundtable.

According to the EIU report, obesity can cost (directly and indirectly) South-east Asia as high as US$10 billion in 2017 alone.

Among the six ASEAN countries, Malaysia and Indonesia experienced the highest overall costs of obesity in 2016, equivalent to (that is, nearly 10%-19%, and 8%-16% of national healthcare spending respectively) US$1 billion-$2 billion and US$2 billion-$4 billion respectively. Singapore incurs the third highest costs (direct and indirect costs arising from obesity) equivalent to between 3% and 10% of national healthcare spending, or US$0.4 billion-$1 billion.

Dr Simon Baptist, chief economist with the EIU, said that ASEAN countries are still focused on malnutrition and are not prioritising obesity as a public health issue. Hence, the average person has little awareness about the associated dangers, including the long-term cost of obesity and its connection to diseases like cancer.

The report said that while some organisations in Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines have collaborated with the local governments to raise awareness and promote behavioural changes towards healthy lifestyles, there is a need for businesses to develop safer, higher quality food products that are lower in obesogenic ingredients such as sugar and saturated fats.

While countries like the UK and the US have been fighting it for over a decade now, developing countries in South-east Asia are no exception to it. For some of the food-scarce countries in this region, the coexistence of obesity and undernutrition will place a greater strain on their public health systems.