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Jun 09, 2014 01:27 PM EDT

Southeast Asian Countries Tackles Obesity

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Many nations in Southeast Asia are taking several measures to prevent obesity from becoming a widespread disease, Counsel and Heal reported.  

Many of these countries, including Singapore and Malaysia, are rolling out measures so people can make healthy choices before obesity turns into the full-blown epidemic seen in many Western countries.

"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 Yoong Kang, chief executive of Singapore's Health Promotion Board, told Reuters.

Currently, Southeast Asian countries have some of the world's lowest obesity rates. However, the likelihood that they will start to lead sedentary lifestyles and gain weight will also unfortunately increase as people's incomes and access to fatty, Western fast foods increase.

The obesity rate in Singapore climbed to about 13 to 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 nearly doubled between 1991 and 2009, Reuters reported.

In order to prevent this trend from happening, these countries have created many anti-obesity programs.

One of the main tactics in Singapore is cutting calories by replacing foods with better options. Many childcare centers in the country are serving less-fattening brown instead of white rice and in public areas; signs were posted encouraging people to take the stirs as opposed to the elevators or escalators.

"Nutrition has to go hand-in-hand with exercise. Drastic changes will backfire," Sean Chin, a trainer from Singapore who went from having 24 percent body fat to just 9 percent, told Reuters. "Appreciate healthy food and your body will thank you in its own way."

In Malaysia, health officials are trying to increase public awareness about obesity in order to "to prevent non-communicable diseases (NCD), such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases." A "Nutrition Month Malaysia" initiative was started to facilitate the public awareness.  

"A population with a high burden of NCDs ... will affect productivity and ultimately negatively impact our economic development," Dr. Chong Chee Kheong, director of disease control at the Ministry of Health in Malaysia, told Reuters.

In Thailand, officials are banning the sale of carbonated soft drinks at state schools to beat the bulge, Reuters reported.

These nations hope to reduce healthcare costs that arise from obesity and the diseases that develop due to obesity with these prevention measures.

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