Fight flab, Asian-style: Climb stairs, cut calories

Jun 09 2014, 14:50 IST
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Southeast Asian countries are rolling out measures before obesity turns into the full-blown epidemic seen in many Western countries. (Thinkstock) Southeast Asian countries are rolling out measures before obesity turns into the full-blown epidemic seen in many Western countries. (Thinkstock)
SummaryObesity problem steadily increasing in Southeast Asia; personal trainer shows picture of 'fat me' to motivate

Singapore's Sean Chin had a body fat percentage of 24 percent seven years ago. He is now lean with just 9 percent fat and as a personal trainer he works daily with clients at their homes to help them fight the flab.

"Building up confidence levels is the crucial first step towards tackling obesity and I help my clients build theirs by showing them a photograph of a fat me," he said with a smile.

"My mantra? If I could, you can."

To complement such efforts and nudge others to take the first step, many Southeast Asian countries are rolling out measures so people can make healthy choices before obesity turns into the full-blown epidemic seen in many Western countries.

Obesity is a priority for the government, said Zee Yoong Kang, chief executive of Singapore's Health Promotion Board.

"There's some intuition that once obesity gets above a certain share of a population, it becomes more of a norm and then businesses and infrastructure accommodate the greater appetite, sucking in more people into that lifestyle," Zee said.

While Southeast Asia still enjoys one of the world's lowest obesity rates, it is seeing a rapid growth in the condition.

Rising incomes, sedentary lifestyles and fattier, Western fast food are exacerbating the situation for a region that has for decades focused on under- rather than over-nutrition.

The obesity rate in Singapore climbed to about 13-14 percent in 2010 from 8.6 percent in 2004. In Malaysia, one of two adults is either overweight or obese, while the prevalence of obesity in Thailand has almost doubled between 1991 and 2009.

The World Health Organisation has urged governments to do more to prevent obesity, instead of risking the high costs when it sets in.

BATTLING THE BULGE

Malaysia is working on increasing awareness about obesity being a public health threat as part of its national strategic plan for non-communicable disease (NCD). Obesity is a key cause of NCDs like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

"A population with a high burden of NCDs ... will affect productivity and ultimately negatively impact our economic development," said Dr Chong Chee Kheong, director of disease control at the Ministry of Health in Malaysia.

The "Nutrition Month Malaysia" initiative had "Eat right, move more: Fight Obesity" as its theme this year. The country also hosted the International Congress on Obesity in March.

Thailand is looking at various measures to beat the bulge, including a ban on the sale of carbonated soft drinks at state schools, said

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