Diabetes Epidemic: Nip it in the Bud



CAP calls on the relevant authorities to take immediate steps to control the growing number of obese children in the country to control the diabetes epidemic that Malaysia is facing.

Studies have showed that childhood obesity levels in Malaysia are among the highest in Asian countries. Data from various research groups have indicated that as many as 15% of toddlers and preschool children in the country could be overweight and obese. Among primary school children, 30% of them could be overweight and obese. These statistics are not surprising as overweight children and youngsters are a common sight at public places.

Children who are overweight or obese face an increased risk of developing serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol – all considered to be exclusively adult diseases in the past.


Overweight and obese children are also more likely to turn into overweight adults, and obesity in adulthood is more severe, in terms of consequences. Children who are obese are also more likely to have impaired glucose tolerance, decreased insulin resistance, suffer liver or gall bladder disease, gastro-esophageal reflux (GERD), sleep apnoea, breathing difficulties like asthma, joint problems, and musculo-skeletal problems.

According to the Malaysian Mental Health Association, in addition to medical problems, overweight children may also suffer psychological problems such as low self-esteem that stems from being teased or bullied by peers, develop unhealthy dieting habits and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, be more prone to depression or are at risk for substance abuse.

According to experts, the “fat phenomenon” in our country can be attributed to a combination of poor eating habits, a diet high in calories, and a decline in physical activity, resulting in more caloric intake than is required by the body.

In addition, more meals eaten away from home, fewer family meals, and greater portion sizes may also have contributed to childhood overweight.

Furthermore, the boom in mobile entertainment devices and too much screen time has also contributed to children’s sedentary lifestyles. Children are now less physically active as children’s entertainment has changed from physical or outdoor activities to indoor video games and television. To further compound this problem, there is a lack of safe or conducive outdoor play areas, especially in urban areas.

The easily availability of food around the clock in the country also indirectly cultivates the unhealthy Malaysian habit of taking supper. Eating at night has been linked to weight gain.

Together with the mushrooming of fast food outlets which serve unhealthy foods also contributes to obesity. Fast foods which are high in fats and salt together with high-sugar soft drinks appeal to children. Continuous consumption of such foods increases their chances of getting diabetes.

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic conditions to affect children. It can strike children of any age even toddlers and babies. If not detected early in a child, diabetes can be fatal or it may cause serious brain damage. Yet diabetes in a child is often completely overlooked it is often misdiagnosed as the flu or not diagnosed at all.

The WHO estimated that more than 200 million people worldwide are living with diabetes and each year another seven million develop it.

In Malaysia, in spite of many campaigns against diabetes, its prevalence especially that of Type 2 diabetes has increased to epidemic proportions. At the current population of 28 million and at the prevalence rate of 15 percent it is estimated that there are 4.2 million diabetics in Malaysia.

The diabetes prevalence rate in Malaysia has risen much faster than expected, almost doubling in magnitude over the last decade. Diabetes does not only take a toll on the country’s resources, but also on the limbs (amputation), eyesight (blindness), kidney (failure), heart (failure) and nerve (damage) of its sufferers.

Surveys have shown that for every two known diabetics, there is at least one more that is undiagnosed and untreated until irreversible complications set in. Worse still, Type 2 diabetes is no longer seen as a disease of middle or old age — children as young as 10 years old suffering from diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2) are not uncommon nowadays.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, obesity and overweight has more than doubled since 1980. Nearly 43 million children under the age of five were overweight in 2010. Close to 35 million of them live in developing countries while eight million in developed countries.

As November 14 is World Diabetes Day, CAP would like to call on the relevant authorities to take immediate action to address the growing obesity problem among the young as obesity will lead to diabetes in their adulthood. These measures should include:

— Impose a levy of taxes on unhealthy foods that has high sugar, sodium and fat content to discourage consumption of such foods.

— Food which are high in sugar, sodium and fat should carry health warning labels

— Have the traffic light system of food labels to indicate the unhealthy levels of sugar, salt and fats

— Prohibit the sale of supersized soft drinks

— Remove vending machines selling soft drinks, sweets and junk foods at public places such as schools and hospitals

— Educate Malaysians especially children the dangers of obesity and diabetes

 — Provide adequate recreational amenities in all residential areas.

Press release, 14 November 2013