Does Malaysia being the fattest society in Asia impact our Covid19 severity?

I know this theory can never be tested properly but is it possible that one reason — among the myriad of reasons — why Malaysia has for a few months now become a ‘mini India’ in terms of positive cases and death rate is because our society is among the fattest in Asia?

Yes, that’s Asia. Not merely ASEAN.

According to the World Health Organisation in 2019, Malaysia is the fattest nation in Asia and has the second highest child obesity rate among children in ASEAN aged 5 to 19 years, with 7.1% of children under the age of 5 being overweight. Seeing the way my own kids gulp down carbonated drinks this hits home strongly. Furthermore, how many people do you know who possess a regular and disciplined workout regiment? More often than not, they have a disciplined nasi lemak schedule.

Photo credit from Investvine

And it’s not likely this is a recent phenomenon.

In 2018, two specialists from UM Specialist Centre noted that we’ve been eating our way to the top for the past thirty years. You can check out the links I’ve put below but it seems indubitable that as a nation we got serious weight issues.

Given the strong link between obesity and the severity of Covid19 (see references below), it seems no surprise that if our national pants are bursting at the seams so would our hospitalization and death rates since May. Long and short, you risk to suffer more from the virus if you can’t keep away from all that kuih-muih, cakes, triple Maggi Mee portions and stuff.

This seems to be that ‘category’ not explicitly mentioned in whenever we read reports on high-risk folks. We’re already familiar with the elderly, those with co-morbidities, those who aren’t vaccinated, but somehow we hardly register (let alone worry) that an overweight person is more at risk from the virus.

If this article does nothing else, perhaps it can inspire all of us to take a good hard look at our waistlines, our spare tayar, our double chins, and make a commitment to fix those?

Imagine the irony of sharing a million WhatsApp messages warning your friends about the corona-virus, about encouraging everyone to get vaccinated, but doing so just before chomping down five pieces of chicken with mashed potatoes followed by a cake dessert. It’s like taking two steps forward and one half steps back.

This is why reopening parks and gyms is, in my view, a subtle priority. First, folks who work out regularly are already many times less likely to suffer badly from the virus. Second, if the message that good health helps in building one’s immune system and overall protection against disease, then reopening exercise venues can only be a good thing.

Of course, slimming down isn’t only about working out. It’s also, or even primarily, about what we eat. For the love of all things polyunsaturated, Malaysians need to eventually learn to cut down on the carbs. And if a pandemic doesn’t drive this lesson into our heads, what will? I think our lives can change if we take even baby steps to cut down just three or four of our usual high-carb meals per week. Maybe on those days with only six letters in their name we can commit ourselves to eating only half a plate of rice, or going full-protein, or maybe a (tasty) salad, or do something la.

In addition to this, or if’s really that tough, we can try intermittent fasting. That’s eating only eight hours a day and, uh, not eating the other sixteen. The simplest I can think of is skip breakfast and supper, eat only between noon and 8pm.

That’s it.

And start a workout routine. Find a YouTube featuring a fitness coach whom you won’t mind dating. Put into practice thirty percent of whatever he or she is teaching. And keep at it.

It’s not (only) about looking hot anymore ya? Your life, my life, our country’s life depends on it.

References:

Center for Disease Control (n.d.) Obesity, Race/Ethnicity, and COVID-19. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/obesity-and-covid-19.html.

World Health Organisation (2019) Sugary drinks tax important first step, but obesity in Malaysia demands further action. Available at: https://www.who.int/malaysia/news/commentaries/detail/sugary-drinks-tax-important-first-step-but-obesity-in-malaysia-demands-further-action.

Daily Express (2018) Malaysia has become ‘fattest’ country in Asia in 30 years. 23 October. Available at: http://www.dailyexpress.com.my/news.cfm?NewsID=128188.

Kuehn B (2021) More Severe Obesity Leads to More Severe COVID-19 in Study. Available at: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2779186.

Wadman M (2020) Why COVID-19 is more deadly in people with obesity — even if they’re young. ScienceMag, 8 September. Available at: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/09/why-covid-19-more-deadly-people-obesity-even-if-theyre-young.

Edu-trainer, Žižek studies, amateur theologian, columnist.