Dateline Southeast Asia

Half of Malaysian deaths now due to NCDs

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Half of Malaysian deaths now due to NCDs

Related tags: Food safety, Nutrition, Government

Non-communicable diseases are now responsible for half of all Malaysian deaths each year, according to a senior health official.

Poor diet, along with smoking, is responsible for the rise of NCDs, which include heart ailments and stroke, said Feisul Idzwan Mustafa of the Ministry of Health’s disease control division.

"These are the main contributors besides other risk factors such as being physically inactive, obesity and diabetes​.

"Overall, [NCD] is also a risk factor for premature deaths under the age of 70 years involving those still productive in terms of the economy or are still working​,” Feisul said.

Winnie Chee, president of the Malaysian Dietitian’s Association, believes Malaysians have become more sedentary while their diet has changed to include more salt, sugar and fat.

She said that in spite of growing recognition of the importance of a proper diet and exercise—the result of government public health campaigns—Malaysians are still resisting change in their eating habits, which is needed to buck the trend towards NCDs.

We have paid quite a price for it, as Malaysia is the most obese country in Asean and has high numbers of people with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which have become public health issues​,” said Prof. Chee.

The awareness of having a proper diet and a healthy lifestyle is more prominent now with the government’s national plan of action for nutrition, as well as initiatives to inform people on the need to change their lifestyle​. 

If we do not take action, a lot of us will not be able to contribute to the development of the country​,” she said.

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Up-country Thai districts and border regions showing greater purchasing power

Thailand’s retail landscape is changing with provincial towns seeing significant growth in purchasing power, research suggests.

Chiang Mai
Grocery retailers in Chiang Mai have been seeing good growth

As retailers penetrate deeper into non-urban provinces and border regions, they are finding new opportunities to engage with consumers, according to media agency Kinetic.

Bangkok, the capital, is still seeing the biggest grocery spend, with shoppers on average buying around 10 items for THB704 (US$19.40) per visit.

The Nation​ newspaper reports that spending in northern areas, including Chiang Mai and Nakhon Sawan, has grown recently to THB645 per visit with an average of at least nine items in the basket.

In the south, which features the towns of Phuket, Songkhla and Nakhon Sri Thammarat, shoppers now spend THB675 on average for nine items.

According to a Nielsen study, consumers in up-country urban areas considered reasonable prices and variety as key factors, while consumers in rural areas looked to convenience and product variety. 

The most popular shopping categories in these areas are vegetables, beverages and food supplements.

Kenetic’s country manager Surachet Bumrongsuk said that companies would be advised to make an effort to understand the purchasing behaviour of consumers in neighbouring countries such as Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia as the region prepares for economic integration under the Asean Economy Community.

Government’s food import controls a success, says Indonesian minister

Indonesia’s agriculture minister has said food import controls have brought the country a growing amount of foreign exchange. 

Australian cattle imports have seen significant import restrictions imposed

The government has saved IRD50tr [US$3.4bn] worth of foreign exchange reserves, thanks to its hard work​,” Amran said, adding that the policy has also protected Indonesian farmers.

Through the government’s controls system, Indonesia has imported no rice this year, while its exports of produce have been increasing.

In 1998, rice imports reached 7.1m tonnes, in the same situation we are facing now, namely a strong El Niño. We have not yet imported any rice so far despite again facing El Niño with an intensity at least as strong as, if not stronger than, in 1998​,” he said.

It is reported that Indonesia has been exporting corn in shipments of around 400,000 tonnes, while at the same time importing less of the staple.

Soon after coming to power last year, President Jokowi announced plans for Indonesia to be food self-sufficient within three years, and recently made sharp cuts to the import of Australian cattle—from 250,000 head in the second-quarter this year to 50,000 this quarter—leading to soaring beef prices in the country. 

The government has also made plans to redistribute 12m hectares of land, open new farming areas, improve irrigation over 1m hectares, and distribute seeds, fertiliser and farming equipment.

Philippines food safety could soon change to health department control

The Filipino government is considering forming a food safety administration under the control of the Department of Health, a lawmaker has revealed.

Rep. Winston Castelo

Representative Winston Castelo (pictured), who has authored an Act to create the administration, said the country needed more stringent policing of food safety than has been shown under the current Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) framework.

Poor enforcement of food safety regulations has been blamed for past cases of food poisoning in the Philippines,​” he said.

A significant portion of the food industry is not regulated by the FDA, meaning that the government has difficulty in governing small businesses in the provinces, he added.

The proposed Act would give wider powers to the health department to target food safety issues more widely than the current system, said Castelo.

Related topics: Policy, Food safety, South East Asia

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