"Building up confidence levels is the crucial first step towards
tackling obesity and I help my clients build theirs by showing them
a photograph of a fat me," he said with a smile.
"My mantra? If I could, you can."
To complement such efforts and nudge others to take the first step,
many Southeast Asian countries are rolling out measures so people
can make healthy choices before obesity turns into the full-blown
epidemic seen in many Western countries.
Obesity is a priority for the government, said Zee Yoong Kang, chief
executive of Singapore's Health Promotion Board.
"There's some intuition that once obesity gets above a certain share
of a population, it becomes more of a norm and then businesses and
infrastructure accommodate the greater appetite, sucking in more
people into that lifestyle," Zee said.
While Southeast Asia still enjoys one of the world's lowest obesity
rates, it is seeing a rapid growth in the condition.
Rising incomes, sedentary lifestyles and fattier, Western fast food
are exacerbating the situation for a region that has for decades
focused on under- rather than over-nutrition.
The obesity rate in Singapore climbed to about 13-14 percent in 2010
from 8.6 percent in 2004. In Malaysia, one of two adults is either
overweight or obese, while the prevalence of obesity in Thailand has
almost doubled between 1991 and 2009.
The World Health Organisation has urged governments to do more to
prevent obesity, instead of risking the high costs when it sets in.
BATTLING THE BULGE
Malaysia is working on increasing awareness about obesity being a
public health threat as part of its national strategic plan for
non-communicable disease (NCD). Obesity is a key cause of NCDs like
diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
"A population with a high burden of NCDs ... will affect
productivity and ultimately negatively impact our economic
development," said Dr Chong Chee Kheong, director of disease control
at the Ministry of Health in Malaysia.
The "Nutrition Month Malaysia" initiative had "Eat right, move more:
Fight Obesity" as its theme this year. The country also hosted the
International Congress on Obesity in March.
Thailand is looking at various measures to beat the bulge, including
a ban on the sale of carbonated soft drinks at state schools, said
Krisada Ruangareerat, manager at the health ministry's Thai Health
Promotion Foundation (THPF).
"The latest number in 2012 showed about 17 million Thais suffered
from obesity ... the number continues to rise by four million people
a year," Krisada told Reuters.
The THPF is also thinking of proposing a tax on sweet foods or those
with high calories. "Thais consume 23.4 teaspoons of sugar per
person per day, which is very high compared with an appropriate
level of six teaspoons a day," Krisada added.
[to top of second column]
"I think every government is at various stages of realisation that
prevention is better than cure," said Simon Flint, the Asia CEO of
gym chain operator Fitness First, which is fast expanding in the
SINGAPORE ON A FITNESS DRIVE
In Singapore, many childcare centres are serving less-fattening
brown instead of white rice and public housing blocks have signs
urging people to skip the lift and take the stairs.
The government has rolled out an incentive-based weight management
programme for its residents to collectively shed one million kgs
(2.2 million lb) in the next three years.
The city-state, home to 5.4 million people, is also working with
several organisations to promote healthy living, including Fitness
First and with fast-food chain McDonald's.
"It's safer as a health authority to tell the kids no McDonald's,
but it's more real and will potentially have a better impact if I
work with McDonald's to improve their product mix," the health
board's Zee said in an interview.
McDonald's has come forward to commit to provide more wholesome
options in its menu, he added.
Singapore, which is hoping to at least stabilise the rising obesity
rate by 2020, recently launched a healthy living master plan and a
food strategy that will see some 700 food outlets island-wide
serving 500-calorie meals. It plans to roll out another initiative
for physical activity later this year.
"Nutrition has to go hand-in-hand with exercise. Drastic changes
will backfire," said Chin, the trainer. "Appreciate healthy food and
your body will thank you in its own way."
(Additional reporting by Rachel Armstrong in SINGAPORE, Manunphattr
Dhanananphorn in BANGKOK and Trinna Leong in KUALA LUMPUR; Editing
by Michael Roddy and Neil Fullick)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.