Obesity is rising fast in Southeast Asia, putting strain on healthcare systems and government budgets, particularly in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, according to research from Fitch Solutions Macro Research.
Vietnam had the biggest increase in the number of obese people – those with a body mass index above 25 – in the five years through 2014, at 38 per cent, followed by Indonesia at 33 per cent.
However, as a proportion of the population, Vietnam still had the lowest share of the obese at 3.6 per cent, far behind Malaysia’s 13.3 per cent and compared with Indonesia’s 5.7 per cent.
“The improving economic standards in the region have brought about lifestyle changes, which in turn have led to a shift to more unhealthy diets,” according to the Fitch report.
The health risks of rising obesity result in mounting healthcare costs for treatment of chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease, the Fitch analysts said.
Malaysia has the highest costs as a result of high obesity, making up as much as a 20 per cent share of overall of healthcare spending, they estimate.
The report does not outline the steps taken since 2014 to combat obesity in Southeast Asia.
Malaysia, for one, imposed an excise tax on packaged sweetened beverages, from fruit juices to soft drinks, starting on July 1.
The levy excludes drinks prepared and served at restaurants as well as instant mixes.
Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea had a 38 per cent increase in obese people in the five-year period, putting them at 5.8 per cent of the population.
In the US, the number of the obese rose 8 per cent to 33.7 per cent of the population.
The jump in obesity in many countries through 2014 caps a longer-term trend in Asia-Pacific from 1990, when 34.6 per cent of adults were overweight or obese.
By 2013, that tally had risen to 40.9 per cent, the data show.
The Philippines looked quite trim compared to its peers: Just 5.1 per cent of the population was obese in 2014, with a growth rate of 6 per cent from 2010 through 2014. THE STAR (Malaysia)