By Lydia Gomez
KUALA LUMPUR: As the death toll from influenza A H1N1 rose to 51 yesterday, obesity has come into play as a possible factor leading to death from the illness.
The Health Ministry is concerned that the obese may be in the high-risk category after a pregnant 18-year-old housewife who died from the flu had no underlying condition except obesity.
Two of the 29 people in intensive care are also obese.
A 2006 national survey showed that 43 per cent of Malaysians were either overweight or obese -- excess body weight in the form of fat -- with the number growing rapidly because of the increasingly sedentary lifestyle.
"The obese may find themselves in the high-risk group for all viruses, including H1N1. Obesity is also the road to diseases like diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses which reduces immunity," Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said when opening the Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity Scientific Conference yesterday.
He said as obesity was linked to major illnesses, people should pay closer attention to food intake and exercise.
"Many are aware that they need to eat right but do not know how to do it. Many also know that they need to be physically active, but continue to lead sedentary lives."
He said obesity, classified as a chronic disease, had become so common worldwide that it had replaced malnutrition and infectious diseases as one of the biggest causes of illnesses.
Liow added that he had included a budget for research into obesity and nutrition under the 10th Malaysia Plan.
"We will go heavily into preventive measures and focus on diet and a healthy lifestyle. But just campaigning in the media is not enough. We will go to the ground and engage communities and encourage non-governmental organisations to get involved."
Liow said he planned to strengthen this by placing nutritionists in public health clinics.
"We plan to get 300 nutritionists, but at the moment have only 50.
"We hope to reach that number by 2014," he said, adding that pharmacists too played an important role in advising people on food intake. - NST.