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Overcoming childhood obesity in Malaysia: Aligning multidisciplinary fields for better outcomes

Sunday 22 March 2015, 1130 – 1300, Lecture Theatre 5

Brian C. Imrie
(Sunway University)

Nigel V. Marsh
(Sunway University)

Child obesity is on the rise internationally, with the prevalence of overweight and obese children escalating by 47.1% between 1980 and 2013. Obesity during childhood has serious health implications and consequent implications for society and policy makers. Obese children are most likely to become obese adults bearing long-term health consequences, impacting their contribution within society.

As a developing nation, Malaysia has undergone the transition from under-nutrition to over-nutrition within the period of three decades. Based on the South East Asian Nutrition Survey 2013, one-in-five Malaysian children are now diagnosed as overweight or obese. The substantial rise in obesity in Asian populations has been proposed by some researchers to be attributable to diminishing levels of physical activity and an increased intake of energy-dense foods. Newly emergent studies also highlight the importance of changes in the gut microbiome that leads to globesity as yet another contributing factor.

Despite all the research in the field no nation has effectively tackled the problem. Previous hypothesis-driven research into childhood obesity reduction has limited utility given criticisms of limited ecological validity. Given research on interventions to reduce childhood obesity, Some researchers argue that there is a lack of practical knowledge on how to translate the evidence in support of family-based interventions into practice.

It has been suggested that a more holistic perspective to tackling obesity with their concept of food well-being, as a dynamic and positive psychological, physical, emotional, and social relationship with food. To effectively address the issue of Malaysian child obesity it is proposed that a multi- discipline approach is required to both examine the drivers and develop policies and interventions which address the problem.

In the Marketing area it is proposed that discussion focus on the role of parental choice as an antecedent of child obesity. Parents are the critical advocates to promote a healthy lifestyle and dieting habits amongst their children. Limited research studies have focused on the factors influencing the parents’ belief, behaviour and dieting practices. Quantitative assessments have been conducted to investigate parental perceptions on their child weight status and child feeding practices. This calls for more research to understand the internal and external trigger factors that impact on parental choices of children’s food, subsequently to explore the potential intervention to educate parents.


  • Brian C. Imrie (Sunway University)

Brian Imrie is Associate Dean (Postgraduate Studies) and Head of Marketing Department of the Sunway University Business School. He has research interest in services and international marketing, examining cultural influence upon service quality evaluation. Other research interests include tribal marketing, consumer behavior, and customer relationship management. Imrie will be talking from the marketing perspective, focusing on the roles of marketing in addressing the issue of childhood obesity in Malaysia, plus the need for multifunctional collaboration in research and policy-making.

  • Poh Bee Koon (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia)

Poh is currently Head of the Nutritional Science Programme at University Kebangsaan Malaysia. She is a leading researcher in Malaysia in the area of nutrition, physical activity and metabolism. She led a regional study on nutritional status in children called the South East Asia Nutrition Survey (SEANUTS) in 2010 to 2013. Prof. Poh will be discussing the challenges of nutrition management in reducing childhood obesity in light of updated research findings.

  • Nik Shanita Safii (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) 

Nik Shanita is currently Head of the Dietetics Programme at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Her areas of interest are in dietary management of childhood obesity, glycaemic index, sports nutrition and nutritional status of specific groups. Nik Shanita shall be presenting on dietary management for obese children in light of daily factors that prevent or are barriers to proper dietary practice. She will discuss how can marketing and personal attitude change be of help and what kind of research could be done to give better insights to studies on dietary management.

  • Alvin Ng Lai Oon (Sunway University)

Alvin Ng is an associate professor at the Department of Psychology, Sunway University. He was involved in the South East Asian Nutrition Survey (SEANUTS) together with Prof. Poh on this panel. His research interest include cognitive behavioural factors in weight management, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, behaviour fluency and cross-cultural psychopathology. Ng will be discussing the challenges of complicated psychological variables in tackling childhood obesity from a systemic approach, acknowledging the individual child, to parents and subsequently to the community and media where marketing takes place.

  • Leong Yoke Kiau (Sunway University)

Leong Yoke Kiau is currently a PhD candidate at Sunway University. She graduated from Victoria University with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in 2013. As part of the solution and suggestion for multifunctional collaboration in addressing childhood obesity in Malaysia, Leong will be describing her PhD proposal in studying factors that influence childhood obesity from the media and marketing perspective.