Overweight Children in Malaysia: Is It Parent's Influence?

Overweight Children Malaysia

Credits: The Sun Daily

Weight problems, especially being overweight and obese, is not a new problem in Malaysia. According to the World Population Review 2019, the country has the highest prevalence of obesity among adults in South-East Asia at 15.6%. It is also said that 1 in 2 adults in Malaysia is considered overweight or obese.

Moreover, data from the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) further emphasizes that Malaysia has a massive weight problem. In 2019, 50.1% of the country's adult population were categorized as overweight or obese, where 30.4% diagnosed as overweight and 19.7% as obese. It further states how factors such as age, sex, and nationality affect obesity rates. Weight problems are more prevalent among women (54.7%), ethnic Indians (63.9%), and the 55 to 59 age group (60.9%).

For years, many Malaysians have struggled with their weight and the repercussions of their unhealthy lifestyle choices. That's why many adults are starting to address these problems. However, they are not the only ones affected by this issue. Many campaigns regarding the condition are also targeted to this specific group. However, it's commonly overlooked how the number of overweight children in Malaysia has also been stealthily increasing throughout the years.

Rise of More Overweight Children in Malaysia

Overweight Children Malaysia

Credits: NHMS

The increasing rates of overweight adults in Malaysia also ring true to the cases of overweight children in the country.

Data from NHMS 2019 also reveals that 29.8% of children, aged between five and 17, are dealing with excess weight, with 14.8% classified as obese. These numbers are alarming, considering that obesity rates back in 2011 were at only 3.9%. The problem has increased threefold within the past decade.

Much like adults, children can also be exposed to health threats due to their excessive weight. They have a higher risk of developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes mellitus and hypertension at a younger age. Their early exposure to chronic illnesses affects these children's overall quality of life and productivity, especially when they grow older.

The increasing number of overweight children in Malaysia are said to be connected to long periods of inactivity. Unlike in the past, it is rarer to see younger people out and about, playing outdoors or doing physical activity. It is more common to see many of them in front of computers, tablets, phones, and television. It is said kids nowadays spend over two hours a day in front of a screen.

Overweight Children Malaysia

Credits: Stocksy

With that said, children's inactivity is not the sole reason pointed to this problem. As they are in their formative years, many look at the possibility of overweight parents' influence on overweight children.

Study on Overweight Parents and Children

Overweight Children Malaysia

Credits: Daily Mail

A study from the City, University of London- to be published in the Journal for Economics and Human Biology- suggests the potential association between overweight and obese parents and the risk of inter-generational of the condition to their children.

The said research analyzed data from a statistical study on the health of 14,401 families. The children observed within the study were aged zero to 16 years, categorized into three groups: pre-school (ages zero to five), primary school (ages six to 11), and teenagers (ages 12 to 16).

A majority of the research took into consideration the subjects' Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters. It is an easy screening method to determine if a person is underweight, at a healthy weight, overweight, or obese.

For adults who are 20 years old and older, BMI is interpreted using the standard weight status category for both men and women of all body types. Here, a BMI of 25.0 to 29.9 is considered overweight, while more than 30.0 is categorized as obese. A BMI of more than 40.0 is diagnosed as morbidly obese.

With that said, adults usually have more body fat than younger people. BMI is interpreted differently for children and teens between 2 to 18 years old, even if it uses the same calculation as adults. Their BMI is more specific to their age and sex, as the amount of body fat changes with age, and it differs between boys and girls.

Furthermore, the study also considers other aspects of overweight parents' daily lives, including tobacco and alcohol consumption, socioeconomic situation, and mental health, to name a few.

Influence of Overweight Parents on their Children

Overweight Children Malaysia

Credits: Daily Mail

The research reveals that overweight parents are significant contributors to the weight of their children. It may differ depending on maternal or paternal influences and the age and sex of their children.

For example, the probability of becoming overweight among five-year-old boys and younger is 19.8% higher when both parents are overweight. The possibility is 26.7% higher within the same age group when both parents are obese.

Male and female children in the primary school category, whose mother is overweight or obese, have a higher chance of being overweight than the influence by their father's weight. Moreover, female teenagers with an overweight or obese mother are more likely to have the same problem.

Parents' age gap (especially the mother's age) to their children also makes a difference in their influence on their children's weight. A wide age gap sets a higher risk for children to become overweight, especially girls.

Child obesity can be associated with four factors: food, physical activity, environment, and genetics. Excessive weight gain due to genetics is highly rare, though there are conditions that link the two. For overweight children, it is more likely caused by excessive food intake and the lack of physical activity.

The study reveals that diet (specifically fruit and vegetable consumption) and physical activities are two critical points in children's weight. It's also common for children to mirror their relationship with food and exercise with those of their parents. If parents practise an unhealthy lifestyle, it trickles down to their children.

Socioeconomic factors also play a significant role in the conversation of child obesity. Parents and children of lower-income families are at higher risk of being overweight. Healthy eating has become a fad, resulting in wider options of nutritious produce in the market. Unfortunately, these food selections tend to be more expensive. It is more likely for lower-income families to spend money on cheap fast food that can feed the whole family. Furthermore, parents probably spend most of their time working to support their children. As a result, they do not have enough time to take care of their bodies or manage their family's overall health.

Being overweight and obese has been a problem in Malaysia and all over the world for years. One reason for that is that it no longer affects a particular age group. Instead, it has become an intergenerational issue. Child obesity is as pressing of a matter as those concerning adults because it affects children's lives in the future. That's why parents are encouraged to lead positive role models for their children regarding weight management.