Obesity crisis: 'Malaysian schools prioritise academics, leaving students short on exercise'

Is Malaysia failing its youth? Schools slammed for lack of focus on physical education

09 Mar 2024 09:02am
Photo for illustration purpose only. - Illustrated by Sinar Daily
Photo for illustration purpose only. - Illustrated by Sinar Daily

Malaysia grapples with a rising tide of obesity, a silent health pandemic threatening the nation's well-being.

To understand the issue, Sinar Daily spoke to renowned fitness instructor Kevin Zahri on World Obesity Day.

Limited community access to sports facilities

Kevin pinpointed a crucial difference between Malaysia and other countries like Germany: accessibility to sports facilities.

"In Germany, community sports were readily available, both location-wise and cost-wise.

"Here in Malaysia, however, schools prioritise academic achievement over sports and healthy lifestyles.

"Their facilities remain closed to the public after school hours," he said.

Cost and convenience barriers

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This lack of access forces people outside the school system to seek alternative fitness options, often burdened by high commercial fees.

"Combined with economic pressures, these costs create significant barriers for many Malaysians," Kevin noted.

Kevin Zahri.
Kevin Zahri.

Breaking the silo mentality

Kevin further highlighted a systemic hurdle: the reluctance of different ministries to collaborate.

"There seems to be resistance from the Education Ministry (MOE), Youth and Sports Ministry (KBS), and Health Ministry (MOH) to work together.

"Each prioritises its own agenda, hindering the synergy needed between sports, schools, and the community," he added

Macro-level intervention by government

Kevin stressed the need for government intervention at a broader level.

"The challenge is substantial...the government should create an ecosystem within schools and implement policies that facilitate grass-roots initiatives by other stakeholders.

"They need to take a macro approach, not micromanage everything," he said.

Alarming statistics

Recent statistics have called for the urgency of action.

The National Health Screening Initiative 2023 revealed a worrying trend: over half (53.5 per cent) of Malaysians are overweight or obese (22.2 per cent obese and 31.3 per cent overweight).

Forecasts from the World Obesity Altas project a grim future, with annual increases in child (5.3 per cent) and adult (4.7 per cent) obesity rates from 2020-2035.

The economic impact is equally concerning.

Obesity and related health issues are projected to cost Malaysia over US$20.15 billion by 2035, representing a staggering 2.8 per cent of the national GDP.

A call for collaboration

Kevin's insights expose the complexities hindering Malaysia's fight against obesity.

Increased accessibility to sports facilities, collaboration between government ministries, and a shift in school priorities towards holistic well-being are all crucial steps.

Only a united effort can turn the tide of this health crisis.

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