Causes of childhood obesity in Malaysia: potential interaction of food availability, children's lifestyle choices and eating behaviour.
The number of overweight and obese children has reached epidemic levels in developed and newly industrialised countries.
It has also started to rise in developing countries in which deficiency diseases and malnutrition still represent a major public health problem, including Malaysia.
Malaysia has undergone a transition from under-nutrition to relative over-nutrition within a period of 30 years. For example, from the early 1990s to 2000, the reported incidence of underweight Malaysian children has dropped from 55% to 14.4% while the number of overweight children has increased from approximately 4% to 9.8%, with at least 7.3% of cases from the city of Kuala Lumpur.
Despite the rapid rise in childhood obesity worldwide, the mechanism of obesity development is not fully understood.
Studies have indicated that excess childhood weight is partially environmentally influenced, although specific environmental causes are unclear. Therefore, it is critical to identify environmental factors that can be manipulated for prevention or treatment purposes.
This project has been designed to elucidate the underlying causes of childhood obesity, particularly among Malaysian children, based on the theoretical model (see Figure 1 below) that explains the hypothesised interaction between food availability, children's lifestyle choices and eating behaviour.
This study will examine up to 1000 primary school children from both higher and lower socio-economic status schools. Data will include anthropometric measures and questionnaires delivered to children and parents.
Above all, the project is being conducted with a view to assist government, private-health agencies and parents to improve the nutritional status and implement better public health policies corresponding to the current environment.
If successful, it is also hoped that the experimental approach used will be of benefit to studies in other comparable countries.