KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 28 — Malaysia needs new health policies to address the unhealthy eating habits and risk of non-communicable diseases among Malaysians, consumer groups said today.
Their remarks come amid the Health Ministry’s plans to introduce steps such as sugar tax and closing eateries beyond midnight.
While the implementation of the policies need to be refined further, the groups believe that new measures need to be taken as Malaysia is currently ranked as Asia’s most obese country.
Consumer Association of Penang (CAP) president SM Mohamed Idris said that the ministry’s new proposals are timely, and also urged Putrajaya not to bow to pressure from restaurant groups which will be affected by policy changes.
“This is a case of undernourishment, everything about eating at odd hours is about having the wrong kind of nutrition,” he told Malay Mail, referring to mamak eateries which are open 24 hours.
Mohamed Idris said that many developed countries do not have 24-hour eateries and people who work during odd hours can rely on more natural food or pack food earlier.
“They should carry out these policies and not fall under pressure from these associations,” he added.
He said that growth in the country should also be measured by the amount of healthy people.
“Was this practice around 20 years ago? The whole culture of eating has gone wrong. In fact, the more you eat such food, you will only feel sleepy [sic],” he said about the ubiquitous tendency to eat after midnight.
Mohamed said that CAP had called for sugar tax implementation for years and said that these new policies can come into effect immediately without having to wait till later next year.
Meanwhile, Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association deputy president Mohd Yusof Abdul Rahman said that the policies are “very good” and are aimed at increasing productivity of Malaysians as well.
“According to research, Malaysians suffer because of the food they eat late at night,” Yusof said, although he admitted justifying the closure of eateries in certain areas where there is a working population will be difficult.
“Maybe in certain areas, like a housing area, the eatery can be closed, and it can remain open in some city areas — this has to go on a case by case basis,” he added.
Yusof also backed the proposed sugar tax, while also suggesting that drink manufacturers be encouraged to reduce the amount of sugar in their drinks to a certain level, and can then be exempted from such taxes.
“But of course we need a mechanism to verify the sugar content in these drinks,” he said.
Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia chief activist Datuk Nadzim Johan said Putrajaya should prioritise educating Malaysians about their eating habits instead of imposing more rules and regulations.
“There needs to be research done to determine, clearly, what are the objectives of these policies. You need to justify these actions,” he said.
“At the moment, the whole measure is uncertain. Do some surveys, speak to stakeholders, limit the numbers [of mamaks] if need be. But mamak eateries are part of our society as well. You need to do them justice,” he added.
Nadzim however questioned the need to impose a sugar tax.
“I don’t know if there is a need to have such a tax. You need a while machinery to handle that. It is better to educate people,” he said.
According to British Health Journal The Lancet, Malaysia is now Asia’s most obese country.
Its 2014 study found Malaysia to have an obesity rate of more than 45.3 per cent.
A study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) earlier this year also reaffirmed Malaysia’s status — as it was ranked the most obese country among South-east Asian nations.