Lack of health awareness unhealthy diet cause of higher NCD
Lack of health awareness unhealthy diet cause of higher NCD

Lack of health awareness, unhealthy diet cause of higher NCD risk amongst Malaysians, say health experts

PETALING JAYA: Unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices along with a lower health literacy have put Malaysians at higher risk of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), according to experts.

“This makes us quite prone to NCDs and increases the risk of kidney, liver and heart diseases.

Cancer is also on the rise and is expected to cause significant loss to quality of life and quantity of lives,” said Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia health economics and public health specialist Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh.

She added that even those who are young are contracting NCDs compared to two decades ago when these diseases were more common among older people.

“Unless there is a change in lifestyle, diet and approach to health, these conditions will continue on an upward trend and more people will be affected,” she said, commenting on the findings of the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2023 released on Wednesday (May 15).

Citing other findings from the Statistics Department, she said there was also a rise in deaths due to Ischemic heart disease, from 11.6% in 2016 to 17% in 2020.

“With insufficient resources and budget, healthcare is moving to privatisation and precision medicine.

“Meaning it will cost more now to access healthcare and many people will not be able to afford it. Public healthcare is trying to serve at its skeletal capacity, but is always overcrowded and burdened by huge costs,” she said.

Commenting on the rising depression rates, Associate Professor Dr Anasuya Jegathevi Jegathesan, dean at the Faculty of Psychology and Social Sciences, University of Cyberjaya, said the “fact there is depression is not surprising.”

She said the lack of a clean environment, spending plenty of time on gadgets, the pressure to score in exams being given more importance over creative and physical activities, as well as family dynamics are some factors that could play a role in the rising depression rates.

“The world economy, the wars and increase of violence in the world….all of these lead to depression. All of these lead to people having a very poor image of the future,” she said.

“A happy medium is probably what is needed,” she added.

She added that the focus should be on prevention, rebuilding families, learning how to manage mental health and not looking at it as a taboo as well as placing more importance on fun and harnessing practical life skills.

Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia president Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh said the lack of affordability and accessibility in healthcare is less likely to see individuals seeking early treatment and detection.

“The government needs to be proactive in giving accessibility, especially in early screening,” said Dr Kuljit.

“Don’t make people line up for three hours, find ways to make it more accessible,” added Dr Kuljit.

Dr Kuljit also said Malaysians who can afford health screenings should get themselves checked regularly.

“Invest a small amount of money (for health screenings) and at least, you safeguard yourself from a huge catastrophe,” added Dr Kuljit.

At the same time, Dr Kuljit also pointed out that healthcare is an expensive affair, as the government spends billions annually to upkeep public hospitals while private hospitals have low-profit margins.

“They (private hospitals) make money, marginally between 7%-12%, which is small compared to other businesses,” added Dr Kuljit.

Dr Kuljit said the culture of overindulgence and the lack of exercise has led to unhealthy trends in Malaysia, adding the cruciality of educating people on the importance of health.

“People who prepare food should also be educated, such as ensuring not too much oil or sugar in food, among others,” said Dr Kuljit.

Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Association Malaysia president Dr Shanmuganathan Ganeson said the findings are reflective of the community, which is currently in survival mode in terms of finances.

“Therefore, they have less priority for their health, despite knowing the fallout of non-intervention,” said Dr Shanmuganathan.

Dr Shanmuganathan also said the increase in private outpatient services is due to the rapid increase of private GP clinics.

“Such an increase would not be discernible in most clinics, as they are reporting a 30%-50% decline in patient numbers,” he said.

Dr Shanmuganathan said the decline in government outpatient facilities was due to many factors, among them car park issues, long waiting times, and among others.

He also said that surgery and procedural treatment such as coronary stenting, angioplasty, cardiac bypass, oncological operations and treatments, among others, are costly affairs.

“Many seniors above 56 who do not have insurance, often resign to their fates, rather than burden their families,” he added.

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