MARCH 3 ― Obesity has been a global public health challenge plaguing the world for a long time, and the sketchy history of obesity starts with pocket-sized figurines. The most famous pocket figurine is dated to about 25,000 BC, named the “Venus of Willendorf”, and is an icon of obesity and metabolic syndrome for the modern-day endocrinologist [1].

The World Health Organisation defines obesity as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health” [2]. Currently, 800 million people worldwide live with obesity [3]. People with obesity are at greater risk of suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. People with obesity are twice as likely to be hospitalised if tested positive for Covid-19. Obesity is also a risk factor for complications of Covid-19 [3].

Not known to many, obesity affects our voice and obese individuals experience changes in voice features such as hoarseness, murmuring, vocal instability etc [4]. Additional weight interferes with abdominal breath support for voice production and affect endurance. In extreme cases, it may affect vocal resonance as the extra weight may significantly reduce the lumen (space) of the pharynx above the glottis. Excess weight can exacerbate the effects of gastroesophageal reflux and can cause hoarseness in the voice [5]. Voice is essential and acts as a primary tool for communication. Social activities or interactions with other people will be affected and restricted if we have voice disorders [6].

The World Health Organisation defines obesity as ‘abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health’. — AFP pic
The World Health Organisation defines obesity as ‘abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health’. — AFP pic

In conjunction with this year’s theme for World Obesity Day, “Everybody needs to act”, here are some actionable actions that all of us could do to help overcome the challenges of obesity. We can start by limiting unhealthy foods (high fat or fried foods, refined grains and sweets, potatoes, red meat, processed meat) and beverages (sugary drinks). Increasing our physical activity and limiting television time, screen time, and other “sit time”. Besides that, improving sleep and reducing stress can prevent obesity as well [7].


Combating obesity is everybody’s responsibility. We all need to come together to drive towards a healthier, happier and longer life.

* Dr Patrick Peng Wee Yao, Prof. Dr. Moy Foong Ming and Prof. Dr. Victor Hoe Chee Wai Abdullah are from the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.


[1] Seshadri KG. Obesity: A Venusian story of Paleolithic proportions. Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism. 2012;16(1):134-5.

[2] World Health Organisation. Obesity 2022 (Available from:

[3] World Obesity Day. Obesity Fact Sheet 2022 (Available from:

[4] da Cunha MG, Passerotti GH, Weber R, Zilberstein B, Cecconello I. Voice feature characteristic in morbid obese population. Obes Surg. 2011;21(3):340-4.

[5] Sapienza CM, Hoffman B. Voice disorders. 3rd ed. San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing; 2018.

[6] Cantor Cutiva LC, Vogel I, Burdorf A. Voice disorders in teachers and their associations with work-related factors: A systematic review. Journal of Communication Disorders. 2013;46(2):143-55.

[7] Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health. Obesity Prevention Strategies 2022 (Available from: