EPIDEMIC is a disease that affects a large community or population, however, a PANDEMIC is an epidemic that is spreading over multiple countries. World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally. The prevalence of obesity nearly tripled in 2016 and it is estimated that at least 2.8 million people dying each year as a result of being overweight or obese. So, will obesity be the next pandemic?
In order to address the need of global awareness, the World Gastroenterology Organisation (WGO) together with the International Federation for the Surgery of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders (IFSO) have partnered to bring awareness to the World Digestive Health Day (WDHD) 2021 theme entitled Obesity: An Ongoing Pandemic.
What is obesity?
Overweight and obesity can be defined by simply calculating a person’s body mass index (BMI) based on the formula:
BMI = (weight in kg)
(height in meters)2
BMI reflects whether your weight is appropriate for your height. WHO classifies one as overweight when his BMI exceeds 22.9 and obese when BMI reading reaches 25.0 and above.
How serious is overweight and obesity in Malaysia?
The issue of obesity is nothing new in Malaysia and its obesity rate is at a worrying level.In 2019, Malaysia has the highest rate of obesity among South East Asia countries. One out of 2 Malaysian adults is either overweight or obese, with 30.4% being overweight and 19.7% obese. Findings from the National Health & Morbidity Survey (NHMS) in 2019 observed increasing trends of overweight, obesity and abdominal obesity compared to findings in 2011 and 2015.1
How might obesity endanger health?
Being overweight or obese (very overweight) means your body has more fats compared to other tissues, such as muscle and bone, putting you at higher risk of developing chronic non-communicable diseases such as:
Furthermore, excess-body fat is closely associated with cancer developing risk and their progression (such as colorectal, endometrial, ovarian cancer etc.) by affecting:
After all, it is ultimately contributing to lower survival rate and it is even estimated to cause 20% of cancer-associated deaths. Notably, recent studies found that obesity is linked to poorer prognosis in people with COVID-19 and lower vaccine efficacy.
Do avoid weight gain or losing weight worth it?
But, you might ask do losing weight or avoid weight gain decrease the risk of getting cancer? The answer seems to be, YES. Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for cancer. Research shows that it is approximately 20% with the increased risk of malignancies being influenced by diet, weight change and body fat distribution together with physical activity.2
A study reported that about 18% of colorectal cancer cases could be prevented through controlling alcohol intake, avoid physical inactivity and overweight.3 In Malaysia, the first study summarised the burden of cancer attributes and its modifiable factors indicated excess weight and smoking are the two predominant factors compared to physical inactivity and alcohol intake for cancer cases in Malaysia. It is also estimated about one-fourth of the cancers were potentially preventable by adjusting the modifiable factor. 4
‘Prevention is still the best, but weight loss worth it’
Never gaining extra weight is still best for your risk of contracting cancer. But, we all know it’s hard to achieve. So, if you are overweight, you can reduce your risk by avoiding putting on extra kilos. It is definitely worth it if you trying to lose the extra weight, as you might be lowering the risk of heart disease or diabetes aside from reducing cancer risk, and also the current COVID-19 pandemic.
- Institute for Public Health (IPH), National Institutes of Health, Ministry of Health Malaysia. 2020. National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019: Vol. I: NCDs – Non-Communicable Diseases: Risk Factors and other Health Problems
- De Pergola, G., & Silvestris, F. (2013). Obesity as a major risk factor for cancer. Journal of obesity, 2013.
- Naing C, Lai PK, Mak JW. Immediately modifiable risk factors attributable to colorectal cancer in Malaysia. BMC Public Health. 2017;17(1):1–7.
- Teh, H.S., Woon, Y.L. Burden of cancers attributable to modifiable risk factors in Malaysia. BMC Public Health 21, 410 (2021).