A weighty issue

Southeast Asia performs rather well in the fitness stakes, but the region’s waistlines may soon be expanding

Joana Maria Tacken and Amanda Saxton
May 13, 2014
A weighty issue

On a global scale, people in Southeast Asia tend to be a pretty active bunch, according to a report by British medical journal The Lancet.

Their regional rate of inactivity is just 24%, hiked up by findings that a sluggish 61% of Malaysians are inactive – extreme outliers – though the report does not include Singapore or Brunei. This contrasts with 36.6% of those in Europe, and the Americas at 38.1%.

The Lancet defines physical inactivity as not engaging in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity five times per week, 20 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity three times a week, or the achievement of 600 metabolic equivalent-minutes per week.

Inactivity is identified as the fourth-largest risk factor for global mortality by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Southeast Asia’s sprightliness probably springs from high levels of occupational physical activity and low levels of public transport, along with popular morning exercise sessions spanning t’ai chi to badminton. Nevertheless, the WHO reports that “physical activity is declining in all domains of life [in Southeast Asia]. It is difficult to reverse this decline because of the unrelenting march of modernisation and mechanisation along with urbanisation.”

It also mentions a corresponding increase in chronic, non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes, colon cancer, depression and anxiety.

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