Malaysia zones in on 'personal responsibility' to tackle rocketing diabetes and obesity rates

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

This year will see more methods employed to alter people's attitudes towards health and lifestyle, with technology, apps and private health insurers involved. ©iStock
This year will see more methods employed to alter people's attitudes towards health and lifestyle, with technology, apps and private health insurers involved. ©iStock
People have to take ownership of their lifestyle and find new ways to change their behaviour, as the debate over how best to tackle non-communicable diseases roars on in Malaysia.

That's according to Rhenu Bhuller, partner and senior VP of transformational health at Frost & Sullivan, following years of rising rates of diabetes and heart disease in Malaysia.

"Non-communicable diseases have been around for a long time; the story is not new. We've been talking about lifestyle diseases for a long time​,"​ she said on the wings of an event to outline Frost's healthcare trends and predictions for 2018.

"Rates are continuing to grow, so what we have to do is all about changing behaviour — it's about taking ownership and finding new ways to change behaviour, be it diet or exercise​."

This year will see more methods employed to alter people's attitudes towards health and lifestyle, such as private health insurers increasingly offering incentives to their customers to stay active.

These are backed up by new technology and apps to monitor and encourage healthy lifestyles — again, under the motivation of the individual.

Health policy under development

Malaysia's PM Najib Razak has been alluding to this sense of personal health ownership as he touts the government's National Transformation 50 plan (TN50), which is being formed to shape a long-term road map for the country's policies.

"One of the key tenets of TN50 is health and wellness, and I believe that's the first step. Singapore has given fitness trackers to every consumer and told them to take 10,000 steps a day​,"​ said Bhuller.

"Malaysia hasn't done that yet, but the fact that it's acknowledging that people should take ownership of their own health — that it's not the ministry's responsibility, that it's not hospitals' responsibility, that it's our responsibility — is a good starting point, and we should take it from there."

Limiting mamak​s is 'un-Malaysian'

But a proposal to shorten the opening hours of mamak​s — traditional 24-hour eateries — to make it less convenient for Malaysians to eat at all hours of the day and night, falls short of the spirit of personal responsibility, she believes.

The measure was suggested by health minister S Subramaniam last December as one of several proposals for a new health policy, alongside taxing sweetened beverages, exempting sports equipment from import duties, and banning advertisements on food and drink with high fat, salt and sugar content.

"Mamaks should be able to open for as long as they want — though consumers need to decide if they want to go there. It doesn't sound very Malaysian,"​ Bhuller said.

"It's all about making the right choices, making healthy choices, and educating from that perspective."

Related topics: Nutrition

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