Brunei records highest child obesity rate in region

Azlan Othman

There has been an alarming trend in the eating habits of Bruneian schoolchildren, with an annual one per cent increase in obesity rates among them.

Brunei has also the highest prevalence of obesity among youth. According to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) survey, 14.1 per cent of Bruneian children aged between five and 19 are obese – the highest in Southeast Asia.

Figures based on the findings by the Ministry of Health (MoH) reveal that one out of five children in Brunei is obese, while three out of 10 are overweight.

The latest Global Nutrition Report 2020 stated that Brunei Darussalam is on course to meet the global target for female diabetes, but is off course to meet the targets for anaemia in women of reproductive age, low birth weight, male diabetes, male obesity and female obesity.

The report also said the sultanate is ‘burdened’ with citizens experiencing one form of malnutrition – being overweight.

The sultanate only suffers from this one form of malnutrition compared to some countries in the region which are ‘burdened’ with citizens suffering from up to three forms of malnutrition – overweight, anaemic or stunted growth.

No figures were revealed in the report, but according to the data from World Population Review 2019, the prevalence of adults who are obese in Brunei Darussalam is the second highest in Southeast Asia, with 14.1 per cent, after Malaysia with 15.6 per cent.

The contributing factors leading to obesity problems can be divided into four main factors: food, physical activity, environment, genetics and other factors such as disease, stress and medicine.

The World Health Organization (WHO) report in February 2020 clearly shows the importance of these issues, as obesity has reached epidemic levels globally, with at least 2.8 million people dying each year due to overweight or obesity.

A recent report by Fitch Solutions Macro Research claims that “the improving economic standards in the region have brought about lifestyle changes, which in turn have led to a shift to more unhealthy diets,” leading people to adopt a diet of fast food that is low in cost and low in nutritional value.

Obesity can reduce productive years by a weighted average of between four and nine years across the ASEAN region. In addition to decreasing a person’s lifespan, obesity also affects their quality of life.

There are numerous health risks, including a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease and even certain types of cancer. Adding to this list, other risks can include osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea, kidney disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.

In pregnant women, obesity can result in complications that can lead to health problems for the mother and child.