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Asia is catching up with the West on obesity, and Malaysia is leading the way

Reuters/Bazuki Muhammad
More people are reaching for another piece of cake.
By Lily Kuo
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Recent research showing that almost half of Malaysian adults are overweight or obese—possibly the highest rate in Asia—has kicked off a flurry of consternation in the country. The prime minister’s office has asked scientists to research solutions. Nutritionists are blaming dietary staples like nasi lemak and roti. Some doctors say too many families still believe chubbiness among children is a sign they’ve been looked after well.

The problem isn’t just in Malaysia. An increasing number Asian countries are quickly gaining weight and witnessing higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, and weight-related disabilities. According to the study published in The Lancet, 44% of men aged 20 or older in Singapore are obese or overweight, about the same rate as Malaysia.


Rates are higher even among women, a trend that is seen mostly in developing countries: 54% of women aged 20 or older in the Maldives are overweight or obesity, compared to 49% of Malaysian women.


Of course, these rates still don’t compare to the US, where 62% of women and 71% of men aged 20 or older are overweight or obese. But they do mean that now, much more of the world can be classified as having serious weight problems. The percentage of adult men with a body mass index of 25 kg/m2 or more grew to 37% in 2013 from 29% in 1980, and to 38%  from 30% for women.

Even more depressingly, as the authors wrote, “not only is obesity increasing, but no national success stories have been reported in the past 33 years.”

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