Progress and prosperity have their drawbacks and unhealthy conspicuous consumption is one of them. The most common of this is over-indulgence in food. Wealth does make people fatter. In recent studies by the World Health Organization (WHO), Malaysia was ranked 1st. in South-East Asia (6th. in Asia) for obesity. 60% of Malaysians aged 18 and above have BMI or body mass index of over 23 - categorizing them as “overweight”.




  BMI (kg/m2)

BMI is a measurement determined by weight and height and there are different BMI charts or calculators applicable for men, women and children. Also, different countries might have differed classifications of what constitutes obesity. The classification on the left is Western Pacific Region of WHO classification, 2000 (Based on studies showing Asian have more weight-related comorbidities compared to Caucasian at the same BMI). Your BMI can easily be calculated from numerous sites featured on the Internet offering quick and accurate calculations. 



Normal range

  18.5 – 22.9

Overweight at risk

  23 - 24.9

Obese I

  25 – 29.9

Obese II



According to Malaysia’s Health Ministry, 1 in 6 Malaysians are either overweight or obese but the Selangor branch of the Malaysian Diabetes Association cited almost one in two Malaysians are either overweight or obese; and that a recent study showed that 22% of Malaysians above the age of 30 are diabetic.

The New Straits Times in an article dated 15 Oct. 2012, stated that based on a BMI of over 25, there were only 5% obese Malaysians in 1996 rising to 14% in 2006 and 15% by 2012. They also reported that almost 50% of adult Malaysians are overweight or obese; with about 20% over the age of 30 afflicted by diabetes up from 14% in 2006; and that another 33% above the age of 30 have high blood pressure; with three in four Malaysians doing little or no exercise.

Apart from over-eating, many other factors cause obesity. Besides having an over-healthy appetite, over-eating can be triggered by emotions and habits too. Cyber-era conveniences and creature comforts promote inactivity - which in turn promotes obesity. It’s evident that sedentary lifestyle does affect a broad spectrum of Malaysians.

Genetics and hormonal imbalance can also cause obesity. In addition, obesity can be caused by psychological pretexts. Low self-esteem caused by being overweight (in the first place), can and often do lead to more eating as a way of seeking comfort. Also, repeated failures with dieting do erode self-esteem further and this in turn aggravates upon over-eating.  

Stress, anxiety, depression and chronic pain can lead to over-eating too. Childhood physical and emotional abuse; loss of a parent during childhood; marital and family problems have also been known to contribute to “comfort” over-eating. Certain medical conditions and medicines such as Cushing’s syndrome or hypothyroidism; or taking certain antidepressants or corticosteroids can trigger weight gain.

Alcoholic beverages such as beer and many cocktails contain high calories and where “beer-belly” is indeed a common syndrome. Unlike the US where fast food is cheap (hence preferred by the working poor), fast food eateries are the fair of choice for those with higher disposable incomes in Asia. Consuming American fast foods can be a hint of one’s economic standings but undeservedly, are packed with calories and fats. Considering we should ideally consume 1,800 – 2,000cals a day, a typical fast food meal can pack a whopping 1,100cals. A common double cheeseburger is about 430cals; a serving of “medium” fries about 360cals; while a cola is about 280cals. Malaysians habitually snack. A portion of nasi lemak is about 700cals. Add a piece of chicken and that can be 300cals; and teh-tarik is some 90cals. This common snack works out to be some 1,100cals.

In consolation, the key for many is to be diet-conscious and to exercise. Whether you jog, swim, cycle outdoors or as in the case of “beings-of-today”, frequent gyms and utilize home exercise equipment, exercise offers loads of benefits. Discover more than to simply burn calories. As commonly quipped – “even your skin glows and you feel as fresh as the morning flower”. Essentially, exercise bestows a gamut of health benefits besides keeping obesity at bay.