Analyst Insight by Simone Baroke - Contributing Analyst
According to an eminent diabetes expert, white rice is one of the root causes of Malaysia’s rocketing obesity figures, which are fuelling the country’s diabetes crisis. The trouble is that healthier alternatives, such as brown rice and low-carb noodles, are not catching on just yet in Malaysia, and nor are they, for that matter, in other Asia Pacific countries. Public health needs do not automatically translate into consumer demand, and a push from the industry will be needed to open up these markets to healthier alternatives and curb the virtually exclusive reign of white rice.
Malaysia is Asia Pacific’s “Fattest” Country
In May 2014, the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet published a new systematic analysis on overweight and obesity involving 188 countries, which identified Malaysia as the most “obese country” in the Asia Pacific region. According to the new data, 48.6% of Malaysian women and 43.8% of men are either overweight or obese. For comparison, in neighbouring Indonesia, the incidence is 30.6% and 21.4%, respectively, whilst it is 39.7% and 32.1% in Thailand.
Excess body weight is the number one predisposing factor for type 2 diabetes, and Malaysia’s prevalence is high: 11.5% of the population aged 20-79 years has type 2 diabetes, compared to a global average of 8.4%, which roughly coincides with the incidence in Asia Pacific overall. In fact, only Singaporeans have higher diabetes rates than Malaysians in Asia Pacific. Incidentally, the US, which continues to lead global overweight/obesity charts, is slightly behind Malaysia, with a diabetes incidence rate of 11.0%.