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Thailand Overweight prevalence second in Southeast Asia

Obesity has reached alarming levels in the Asean Economic Community and especially in Thailand, where 32 per cent of the population are overweight

Olivier Languepin

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A recent study shows that Thais are tending to have more tendency to become obese, as the country now ranked second in ASEAN for the most people with obesity.

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Thailand has now become one of the countries with the highest prevalence of obesity in Asia (second only to Malaysia), ahead of richer countries such as the Republic of Korea, Japan, and Singapore.

More Thais are becoming obese due to the current eating habits and data showed that Bangkokians were most at risk of becoming obese most, while the northeastern region showed the least risk of contracting the disease.

The data reflected that obesity is usually caused among city people who are well off and receive higher salaries than those who live in the countryside.

As for the ranking of obesity in the ASEAN region, Thailand came second after Malaysia, with the highest number of people with the disease.

As for the ranking of obesity in the ASEAN region, Thailand came second after Malaysia
As for the ranking of obesity in the ASEAN region, Thailand came second after Malaysia

As the lifestyle in Thailand rapidly changes, Thais are confronted with a new kind of plague: obesity. Thailand is among top five Asia-Pacific nations with the highest numbers of obese people, and by 2015 Thailand will have a whopping 21 million members of a “fat tummy network,” according to the Ministry of Public Health.

Bangkok has the highest prevalence of obesity for both males (38.8%) and females (49.4%), followed by the central region (33.3% for males and 44.5% for females), the southern region (27.4% and 44.7%), the northern region (27.5% and 36.3%) and the north-eastern region (22.5% and 39.1%). This obesity trend reflects the differences in average income per capita across regions. (Source : Obesity in Thailand and its Economic Cost Estimation).

The shift from rural areas to the cities

This major demographic change has been occurring for some time now. Its implications include some reduction in the amount of physical activity undertaken, some weakening of family units and traditional lifestyle, and greater exposure to processed food and soft drinks.

Whilst we chit-chat about the weather, Thais routinely opt to discuss what they last ate. The Thai approach to food and eating is social and relaxed, often featuring multiple snacks or meals at irregular times of the day or night.

This approach developed in a time when most ate simple foods with low calorific content, walked more, and undertook manual labour. The outcome of introducing a sedentary lifestyle and processed and high-calorie foods into this equation, was never going to be pretty.

A food-centric culture combined with a fondness for sweetness

In addition, many Thai people love sweet tastes and add a considerable amount of sugar to many popular recipes. As an example, a key factor in the successful introduction of pizza to the Thai populace was the addition of extra amounts of tomato sauce (which is high in sugar) than is used in pizza topping in western countries.

Mr. Yingsak Jraipinit, food researcher from Pilot Plant Development and Training Institute of King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (Bangkuntien) said that there is much healthy Thai food such as a sour relish with sliced papaya (Somtam).

However, most Thais still love to eat very fat and oily food like Khao Ka Moo or fried banana (Kluai Thod), so it damages their health.

Many younger Thais are rejecting certain aspects of traditional Thai life as being decidedly ‘un-cool’ and old-fashioned, choosing instead to embrace available aspects of western culture/lifestyle. The implications of this include changes to earlier patterns of diet and exercise.

According to the statistics of the Ministry of Public Health on March 6,2008, it shows that 1.4 million of 17.6 million Thai children are obese because they lack exercise, sitting and watching television or play computer game all day.

Importantly, they love to eat too much snack, soft drinks and fast-food which can be prepared and served very quickly.

KFC, Mc Donalds and Swensen : the usual suspects

As in so many other countries, fast-food like KFC and McDonalds have been enthusiastically embraced in Thailand. Unlike in the West, however, fast foods are generally not cheaper or more convenient than the local fare … demand appears to be driven more by its western cachet.

Thais have not traditionally eaten things like ice cream, chocolate, and cakes/pastries. They have, however, had access to an extensive array of snack and convenience-type foods, most of which are based on staples like banana, rice, coconut, bean or tarot.

Many children now however would be embarrassed to be seen with anything wrapped in a banana leaf, choosing instead products that are highly-processed, advertised on TV and wrapped in colourful foil or plastic.

Further, where once water or coconut juice were seen as the beverages of choice, now flavoured (sweetened) milk and soft drinks like Coca-Cola are favored by younger generations.

Further, in selecting their recreational pursuits, many Thai children are now shunning traditional, inexpensive and accessible recreational pursuits like Muay Thai, in favor of either passive computer-based activities or more exotic and aspirational recreational activities that may often be priced beyond their reach.

A shortage of free time and disposable income: Working long hours, usually for six days each week, reduces peoples’ ability and propensity to exercise. A similar situation applies with Thai children, whose school day is often drawn out with commuting and after-school tutoring.

To make matters worse, most schools appear to place a low priority on sport and physical education. Little disposable income and often high levels of household debt mean that many are unable to afford to visit commercial recreation facilities such as modern gyms.

Bangkok Correspondent for Siam News Network. Editor at Thailand Business News

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Asean

COVID-19 Vaccine Roll Outs in ASEAN Live Updates by Country

Thailand is currently expecting vaccines to be delivered in mid-2021. The doses would cover 13 million people in a population of about 69 million. Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute signed a non-refundable advance market commitment contract worth 2.38 billion baht (US$79 million) with AstraZeneca to reserve the supplies

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ASEAN coronavirus Covid-19 live updates by country

Brunei

Brunei has joined the global Covax scheme and is expecting to have the COVID-19 vaccine in Q1 2021, having sourced enough supplies to cover 50% of the population. Discussions are on-going with other suppliers.   

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  • Brunei recorded one new case on May 8, bringing the total to 330 cases amid three deaths.
  • Brunei saw one new case on May 7, taking the total to 229 cases amid three deaths.
  • Brunei recorded one new case on May 4, taking the total to 228 amid three deaths.

Cambodia

Cambodia is expected to import vaccines from both China and Russia. China’s vaccines are still undergoing clinical trials while Russia has already commenced production. Australia has offered financial support to aid vaccine coverage in several southeast Asia countries including Cambodia.  

  • Cambodia recorded 538 new cases on May 8, bringing the total to 18,717 cases amid 114 deaths.
  • Cambodia recorded 558 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 18,179 cases and 114 deaths.
  • Cambodia reported 650 new cases and four deaths on May 6, bringing the tallies to 17,621 cases and 114 deaths.

Indonesia

Indonesia has commenced vaccinations with just over nine million doses being given to front line workers from last month. China’s Sinovac is in discussions with Indonesia to provide supplies, however, the Government faces difficulties with a large population of 268 million and price sensitivity at Sinovac’s estimated costs at 200,000 rupiah (US$20) a dose.

Indonesia’s Health Ministry’s Disease Control and Prevention Director-General Achmad Yurianto said that vaccinations would only be provided to citizens aged 18-59. The vaccine has also been required to pass halal certification prior to use and it is uncertain how the country can source enough vaccines to reach a sizeable part of its population.  Australia has stated it will also provide financial support to solve these issues.  

  • Indonesia recorded 6,130 new cases and 179 deaths on May 8, bringing the totals to 1,709,762 cases and 46,842 deaths.
  • Indonesia saw 6,327 new cases and 167 deaths on May 7, bringing the tallies to 1,703,632 cases and 46,663 deaths.
  • Indonesia reported 5,647 new cases and 147 deaths on May 6, bringing the totals to 1,697,305 cases and 46,496 deaths.

Laos

Laos has been trialing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and is also in discussions with China about acquiring supplies. 

  • Laos recorded 28 new cases on May 8, bringing the total to 1,233.
  • Laos saw 28 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 1,205.
  • Laos saw 105 new cases on May 6, taking the total to 1,177.

Malaysia

Malaysia is to provide vaccines free of charge to its nationals, but foreigners will need to pay for the treatment, according to the Malaysian Minister of Health, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who has signed a deal with Pfizer for 12.8 million doses.

These will be administered in two stages of 6.4 million people each, with the program to commence in Q1 2021. The country aims to inoculate between 80-100% of its citizens. 

  • Malaysia reported 4,519 new cases and 25 deaths on May 8, taking the tallies to 436,944 cases and 1,657 deaths.
  • Malaysia saw 4,498 new cases and 22 deaths on May 7, bringing the tallies to 432,425 cases and 1,632 deaths.
  • Malaysia recorded 3,551 new cases and 19 deaths on May 6, taking the totals to 427,927 cases and 1,610 deaths.

Myanmar

Myanmar is seeking assistance from the Gavi and Covax programs to acquire vaccines, while Australia is also providing financial relief. At present, the Government aims to treat 20 percent of the ‘most at risk’ in the country with vaccines. The Government is struggling with finances and logistics and is also under US sanctions, while cases are surging. The Government has banned the celebration of Christmas and other seasonal celebrations.   

  • Myanmar recorded 31 new cases on May 8, taking the total to 142,934 amid 3,210 deaths.
  • Myanmar saw 29 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 142,903 amid 3,210 deaths.
  • Myanmar recorded 16 new cases and one death on May 5, bringing the total to 142,874 amid 3,210 deaths.

Philippines

The Philippines aims to commence vaccinations from June 2021 and expects to inoculate about 25 million people (about 25 percent of its population) over the course of the year. The country has been badly affected by the virus and has the second-highest rate in Southeast Asia.

The business community has reacted, more than 30 local companies signed an agreement to purchase at least 2.6 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca in the country’s first such deal to secure coronavirus vaccines, ten days ago. They plan to donate a large part of the doses to the government for its planned vaccination program and use the rest to inoculate their employees. 

  • The country saw 6,979 new cases and 170 deaths on May 8, taking the totals to 1,094,849 cases and 18,269 deaths.
  • The Philippines reported 7,733 new cases and 108 deaths on May 7, bringing the tallies to 1,087,885 cases and 18,099 deaths.
  • The Philippines saw 6,637 new cases and 191 deaths on May 6, bringing the totals to 1,080,172 cases and 17,991 deaths.

Singapore

Singapore has been working on producing its own ‘Lunar’ vaccine, in a joint venture between the US company Arcturus together with the Duke-NUS medical school. It is a single dose, mRNA shot, developed from genetically engineering COVID-19 genes into an otherwise harmless virus. This technique is marginally safer than other vaccines which rely on dead Covid-19 material to provoke an immune response. The vaccine is expected to be available from Q1 2021. High-risk personnel will receive the vaccine first in a process to be determined by the government.     

  • Singapore recorded 20 new cases on May 8, taking the total to 61,331 cases amid 31 deaths.
  • Singapore saw 25 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 61,311 cases amid 31 deaths.
  • Singapore saw 18 new cases on May 6, bringing the total to 61,286 cases amid 31 deaths.

Thailand

Thailand is currently expecting vaccines to be delivered in mid-2021. The doses would cover 13 million people in a population of about 69 million.

Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute signed a non-refundable advance market commitment contract worth 2.38 billion baht (US$79 million) with AstraZeneca to reserve the supplies. Discussions are also on-going with Oxford University in the UK to secure a vaccine that could be available in Q1 if trials are completed in time.   

  • Thailand reported 2,419 new cases and 19 deaths on May 8, taking the tallies to 81,274 cases and 382 deaths.
  • Thailand recorded 2,044 new cases and 27 deaths on May 7, taking the totals to 78,855 cases and 363 deaths.
  • Thailand reported 1,911 new cases and 18 deaths on May 6, taking the tallies to 76,811 cases and 336 deaths.

Vietnam

Vietnam’s National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE), a division of Vietnam’s Ministry of Health, has signed an agreement with Medigen Vaccine, a Taipei, Taiwan-based vaccine company to secure the supply of 3 million to 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in 2021. Medigen is currently conducting Phase II studies of the vaccine, co-developed with the USA’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), in Taiwan and Vietnam with a view to a Q1 2021 rollout.  

Vietnam is also working on producing its own vaccine, with the Institute of Vaccines and Medical Biologicals (IVAC) in Nha Trang City, partnering with New York City-based Icahn School of Medicine and the global health non-profit organization PATH. Phase 1 trials are already underway in Vietnam, while Phases 2 & 3 will be conducted at the beginning of 2021. The institute plans to submit documents for approval to the health ministry as early as April next year and claims to be capable of producing 30 million doses a year, expecting that a national vaccine could be distributed to the general population in October 2021.

  • Vietnam saw 15 new cases on May 8, taking the total to 3,152 cases amid 35 deaths.
  • As of May 7, 2021, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health confirmed a total of 3,091 cases of COVID-19. However, 2,560 of the affected patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals. Vietnam has also recorded 35 deaths due to the pandemic. The latest community transmission cases have been reported from Hanoi, Vinh Phuc, Thai Binh, Bac Ninh, and Da Nang among others. 16 local cases are linked to the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi’s Dong Anh district.
  • As of May 6, 2021, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health confirmed a total of 3,030 cases of COVID-19. However, 2,560 of the affected patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals. Vietnam has also recorded 35 deaths due to the pandemic. The latest community transmission cases have been reported from Hanoi’s outskirts district of Dong Anh.

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