EATING out is a trend among Malaysians due to rising affluence, urbanisation, changing lifestyles and an increasing number of working mothers.
As household income increases, people spend more time at work and less time preparing food at home.
Many food stalls and restaurants are available, from all-day hawker centres, food courts and coffee shops to full-service dining restaurants.
Fast-food restaurants offer meals at reasonable prices. These indicate a growing food service industry. There is, however, a growing concern about the quality and safety of outside food.
A report from the Department of Statistics shows that the number of deaths caused by unhealthy eating has been on the rise. Public expenditure on healthcare has increased over the last three decades.
The report said one of four children in the country is either overweight or obese.
The statistics show that health problems are more serious in Malaysia than in other Southeast Asian countries.
The loss of productivity and rising health expenditure due to poor health and nutritional status have become important public policy issues in Malaysia.
Nobel Prize winner for economics Amartya Sen said the development process for a country was not solely about economic growth, but the fruits of economic growth that benefited human wellbeing through higher literacy rates, and better health and nutrition.
Therefore, as the economy grows and household income rises, the demand for safe and nutritious food will also increase. Policymakers need to understand the risk of “food away from home” and its impact on public health.
The soft-policy approach to raise awareness about public healthcare and nutrition policies failed to reach the intended target, due to lack of awareness, weak monitoring and enforcement.
The health threat to Malay-sians and its impact on the economy and national budgets cannot be taken lightly.
The healthcare crisis is related to Malaysians’ food consumption habit.
Hence, there must be a policy to improve people’s wellbeing, which, in turn, will reduce loss of productivity.
Malaysians have changed their lifestyles and food habits, therefore, measures need to be taken to ensure that outside meals are nutritional, safe for consumption and reasonably priced.
The government alone may not be able to solve this problem.
An effective and sustainable healthcare policy must include the participation of the food service industry and academic institutions.
All have a role to play in managing and operating a food safety-control system.
The Health Ministry can collaborate with educational institutions and the food service industry to boost awareness about public healthcare.
This collaborative effort will
be more effective and sustainable, especially if there are awareness programmes in rural and urban communities.
An active community can influence policymakers to formulate a sustainable policy for healthcare management.
Dr Gazi Md Nurul Islam, Associate professor, Tun Abdul Razak School of Government (TARSOG), Unirazak