Freespace - Watch your holiday fare

IT'S the holiday season and the end of the year. It is likely that you are planning to have lots of delicious food! Malaysians are known for our love of food; we discuss what we intend to have for lunch while we are eating breakfast. That's part of what makes us unique.

But as with all actions, there come consequences, our love of food has made us the fattest country in Asia. Once upon a time, we were just the most obese in Southeast Asia but we are champions, we went for gold.

A news article in October stated that a study published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, revealed that Malaysia is the most obese country in Asia. Our 2015 National Health and Morbidity survey backs this finding, as 47.7% of the Malaysian population aged 18 and above were found to be overweight or obese.

I know this won't stop many from taking that extra slice of fruitcake this Christmas. I know it won't stop me. Cutting down on food or choosing healthier options to eat is tough for us. We have such a variety of good food, in all kinds of price ranges, available at all hours of the day, how can we stop ourselves? Especially if we are used to eating so much and mostly non-nutritious food?

Scare tactics don't really work either, in terms of getting people to make better nutritional choices or to exercise. For example, president of the Malaysian Doctor's Club, Dr Muhammad Hakim Nordin, was reported to have said, "Today, obesity is also known as disease. Many are unaware that obesity is a catalyst for chronic diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes."

He added, "We can see that 30.3% of Malaysians aged 18 and above suffer from high blood pressure, 47.7% have high cholesterol levels and 17.5% have diabetes." This hasn't caused much change in our lifestyles, has it?

In fact, in our age of instant gratification, we seek quick-fix weight loss "solutions". The funny thing is, as another personal trainer once said, "If you don't believe in skim cepat kaya, why do you believe in skim cepat kurus?" And this is true. I really wonder what goes on in our minds.

Unsurprisingly, we also expect instant alarm bells to ring when we are unwell. Muhammad Hakim countered that by saying that complications from being overweight or obese could arise only after 15 or 30 years after initial diagnosis. So if someone says you need to lose weight, and you don't make an effort, the consequences might only take place much later in life.

Sadly, being fit and healthy can be costly. For example, basic staples such as white rice and sugar are cheaper than the less refined option. Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president, Dr Ashok Zachariah Phillip, said in another news report, "If you look at the strata, it's usually the lower grade workers who are overweight because it takes money to keep fit. Government workers go to work at 7am, come back at 7pm and have no time between work and family to even think of exercising."

It is great that in February this year, our police force launched a "Trim N Fit" programme to help the heavier personnel lose some weight. This was because it was found that the police force reported that 11,000 of its 122,000 officers, about 10%, are overweight, causing rising health-related absenteeism and costing millions of dollars in lost productivity.

In addition, it is great that Johor hospitals are encouraged to get their staff to use the staircases instead of lifts which will help them to improve their fitness. It is the small things we do that could amount to a healthier lifestyle. There is no harm in reaching for that extra slice of fruit cake. Just know that it could potentially harm you if you don't burn off the unnecessary energy you consumed.

Daniel freelances in writing and fitness training, and has a deep passion for health, fitness, sleep and travel. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com