Obesity in Malaysia

Malaysia is one of the countries with the highest rates of overweight and obesity in Southeast Asia1. According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, 19.7% of individuals – 15.3% of men and 24.7% of women – are living with obesity in Malaysia2. By 2030, these figures are estimated to increase to 23.4% of adults – 20.6% of men and 26.4% of women3.

As well as rising rates of adult obesity, the prevalence of childhood obesity is also increasing at an alarming rate in Malaysia, with 29.8% of children 5 to 17 years of age living with overweight (15.0%) or obesity (14.8%)4.

Obesity is also linked to more than 200 other chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and cancers5,6, and increases the risks of type 2 diabetes by sevenfold in men and 12-fold in women7.

Obesity not only impacts the health of individuals and communities, but also has far-reaching complications for healthcare systems and the economy. In 2017, overweight and obesity accounted for 13.3% of total health costs and 0.54% of Malaysia’s GDP or USD 1.7 billion – not including the associated costs of reduced productivity, disability and absences from work8.

The clinical management of obesity in Malaysia is currently insufficient to tackle the multifaceted nature of obesity. There is a limited number of public hospitals that offer such obesity-related services, and as a result, patients in many communities lack the integrated care needed to manage obesity and must access different touchpoints, prolonging their access to effective care9. In addition, healthcare professionals in primary care services often do not treat obesity. Rather they treat other chronic conditions related to obesity, such as diabetes and hypertension.


MYOS: Mission and Remit

MYOS is a long-term initiative to engage local stakeholders to come together to gain diverse perspectives on a common challenge of addressing the obesity epidemic in Malaysia. Together and through targeted action plans, it also aims to identify how healthcare providers, policymakers, patients, and those involved in health systems can collaborate to drive national actions that enable health systems and society to put in place interventions, which will effectively reduce rates of obesity and its associated complications.

MYOS: Key activities to date

MYOS was first established as Malaysia (MY) OPEN in January 2022 following the inaugural OPEN Southeast Asia meeting in November 2021. Under MY OPEN, members presented a call-to-action paper to the Former Minister of Health, YB Khairy Jamaluddin to outline key recommendations to improve obesity management in Malaysia and discuss shared national priorities.

In January 2023, MYOS was set up as a formal independent professional organisation that is registered with the Registrar of Society. Since its inception, MYOS has been active in planning and driving a wide number of initiatives, which include:

  • Extending collaborations with medical societies (Malaysian Endocrine and Metabolic Society, Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity) to create focus on obesity management.
  • Creating HCP-Patient conversation scripts on obesity management for primary care providers.
  • Jointly organising webinars for healthcare providers on therapeutic nutrition, weight management, and diabetes.
  • Collaborating with Universiti Putra Malaysia to develop a local survey research on the prevalence of obesity in school children and school teachers.

MYOS: Priorities in 2023 and beyond

Key focus areas of MYOS:

  1. Advocating the recognition of obesity as a disease, including for obesity to be separately reported as a chronic disease in the upcoming National Health and Morbidity Survey
  2. Increasing awareness of obesity as a disease among healthcare providers and the public.
  3. Establishing local research and networks to connect with other OPEN initiative groups in the South East Asian region.

MYOS: Members

  • Dr Rohana Abdul Ghani (Chair), Consultant Endocrinologist, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Technology MARA
  • Dr Mastura Ismail, Deputy Director, Primary Care, Family Health Development Division, Ministry of Health Malaysia
  • Dr Masni Mohamad, Consultant Endocrinologist, Hospital Putrajaya
  • Dr Norlaila Mustafa, Head of Medical Department, Senior Consultant Physician and Endocrinologist, Hospital Canselor Tuanku Muhriz Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
  • Prof. Dr Zubaidah Nor Hanipah, Clinical Consultant in General Surgery, Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University Putra Malaysia
  • Dr Wong Ping Foo, Family Medicine Specialist, Klinik Kesihatan Cheras Baru
  • Assoc Prof Dr Barakatun Nisak, Deputy Dean and Associate Professor, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University Putra Malaysia
  • Assoc Prof Dr Mohd Nahar Azmi Mohamed, Consultant Sports Physician and Associate Professor Sports Medicine Department, University Malaya Medical Centre
  • Dr Nalini M Selveindran, Paediatric Endocrinologist, Paediatric Department, Hospital Putrajaya
  • Professor Dr Firdaus Mukhtar, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Department of Psychiatry, University Putra Malaysia
  • Nazrul Hadi Ismail, Lecturer of Dietetics, School of Health Science, Universiti Technology MARA


1 World Population Review. (2022). Obesity rates by country 2022. [Online]. Available from: https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/obesity-rates-by-country
2 Institute for Public Health, National Institutes of Health, Ministry of Health. (2020). National health and morbidity survey (NHMS) 2019: Volume 1: NCDs – Non-communicable diseases: Risk factors and other health problems. [Online]. Available from: http://iku.gov.my/images/IKU/Document/REPORT/NHMS2019/Report_NHMS2019-NCD_v2.pdf
3 World Obesity Federation (2022). World Obesity Atlas 2022. [Online]. Available from: https://www.worldobesity.org/resources/ resource-library/world-obesity-atlas-2022
4 Institute for Public Health, National Institutes of Health, Ministry of Health Malaysia. (2020). National health and morbidity survey (NHMS) 2019: Volume 1: NCDs – Non-communicable diseases: Risk factors and other health problems. [Online]. Available from: http://iku.gov.my/images/IKU/Document/REPORT/NHMS2019/Report_NHMS2019-NCD_v2.pdf
5 World Health Organization. (2021). Obesity and overweight. [Online]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight
6 Yuen MM, Earle RL, Kadambi N, et al. (2016). A systematic review and evaluation of current evidence reveals 236 obesity-associated disorders. [Poster T-P-3166 presented at unspecified meeting].
7 Guh DP, Zhang W, Bansback N, et al. (2009). The incidence of co-morbidities related to obesity and overweight: A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Public Health. 9:88.
8 World Health Organization, Western Pacific, Malaysia. (2019). Sugary drinks tax important first step, but obesity in Malaysia demands further action. [Online]. Available from: https://www.who.int/malaysia/news/commentaries/detail/sugary-drinks-tax-important-first-step-but-obesity-in-malaysia-demands-further-action
9 Gimino G. (2022). Obesity – an emerging health crisis. The Star. [Online]. Available from: https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2022/03/05/obesity—an-emerging-health-crisis