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Overcoming childhood obesity and malnutrition in Malaysia



Kuala Lumpur, 7 April 2016 – Malaysia is one of several ASEAN countries facing simultaneous crises of over and under-nutrition, with some children overweight while their peers suffer from stunting and wasting. This ‘double burden of malnutrition’, identified in a recent report from UNICEF, WHO and ASEAN, is also happening in other middle income countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

“While there has been much progress in Malaysia over the past few decades in terms of improving children’s lives, the road to high-income nationhood brings up new challenges such as obesity in children and young people due to changing lifestyles and dietary habits,” said Ms. Marianne Clark-Hattingh, UNICEF Malaysia Representative. “On the other hand, many children are still growing up without proper nutrition.”

According to the latest statistics from the National Health Morbidity Survey (NHMS 2015) as quoted in the report, more than 7% of children in Malaysia under 5 had been identified as overweight.  The same survey also found that 8% of children under 5 suffered acute malnutrition, or wasting.

The causes of overweight and undernutrition are intertwined. A child whose growth was stunted in early childhood is at greater risk of becoming overweight later in life. The risk for being overweight goes up with increased access to junk food and drinks (those with high trans-fat or sugar content and low nutritional value), physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles. This is an increasing trend in many countries in ASEAN, and contributes significantly to the growing prevalence of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart conditions.

Together with over-nutrition, as evidenced by the data, stunting and wasting remain an issue in Malaysia. Despite improvements in health care provision and the near-universal provision of water and sanitation, poverty and poor infant feeding practices remain contributing factors.

Malnutrition causes developmental delays and makes children more prone to illness, affecting their cognitive ability and capacity to reach their full potential. Likewise obesity can also severely hamper a child’s development and quality of life,  leading to secondary complications such as Type 2 diabetes, cardio-vascular problems, asthma and sleeping disorders.   The double burden of nutrition also impacts a country’s economy related to poor cognitive ability and educational attainment, increased vulnerability of children affected by illness which ultimately leads to an increase in health costs and a direct loss in human capital and productivity for the economy .

To that end, the Government of Malaysia has taken increased measures to mitigate over and under-nutrition. Multi-pronged strategies have been carried out to support healthy eating and active lifestyles through various initiatives and programmes. The country has in place a well-structured two-tier system and strong delivery of primary health care to more than 90% of the population (which in the majority of cases lives within 5 km of a health facility). Other interventions include food programmes in schools, nutrition consultation and weight reduction initiatives.

“Thanks to efforts by the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Youth and Sports, civil society and other stakeholders, there are ongoing programmes in place to support breastfeeding amongst new mothers, ensure children eat better and encourage youth to be more physically active. Such interventions make a huge difference in the lives of children in Malaysia and enables the full potential of future generations,” added Ms. Clark-Hattingh.


Download materials
You can download the full report, human interest stories, the regional news release, photos and video footage (all of which can be used by media with credit to UNICEF) here:

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF Malaysia, visit:

For further information, please contact:
Sasha Surandran, UNICEF Malaysia,




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