Brunei minister raises concern over ‘obesogenic’ environment

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN (Borneo Bulletin/ANN) - Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar yesterday raised concerns on the ‘obesogenic’ environment in the country, saying that it is not conducive towards tackling obesity and cardiovascular issues among the population.

The minister, who was the guest of honour at the 5th Annual Scientific Meeting 2018 hosted by the Cardiac Society of

Brunei Darussalam (CSBD), noted that over 50 per cent of billboard adverts are related to unhealthy food and beverage products, with similar adverts frequently appearing in newspapers and on radio broadcasts.

“Advertisements for fast food and sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) on billboards, newspapers, social media and the radio - which sometimes target children or use children to appeal to them - do not help in the fight against obesity and the resulting health problems,” he said.

Indicating that the prevalence of obesity in Brunei is still high, as well as the intake of sugary drinks and smoking among youth, the minister said, “Our country needs a concerted effort to tackle these issues, because if otherwise, cardiovascular diseases will continue to be a prominent factor.”

He cited a survey by the Global Nutrition Report 2016, showing that Brunei Darussalam ranks high for obesity among adults in Southeast Asia.

 “More people are becoming physically active on a regular basis, but physical inactivity seems to be higher in females than in males,” he said.

Another area of concern is the high percentage of fast food consumption among the younger population, where according to the 2011 National Health and Nutritional Status Survey (NHNSS), more than 30 per cent of Bruneian youth aged five to 18 consume fast food two to five times a week.

The same survey also showed that about 40 per cent of local children aged five to nine years are drinking sugar-sweetened beverages every day.

“The 2011 NHNSS indicated that a low number of people are taking fruits and vegetables on a daily basis,” said the minister, “For example, only 2.3 per cent of boys and 0.7 per cent of girls those in the age group of five to nine are eating a regular diet of fruit and vegetables. The highest proportion of residents who ate fruits and vegetables daily was the above 60 age group. However, from that age group, 41.4 per cent of females and 13.2 per cent males consumed fruit and vegetables. This is something that needs to be studied closely.”

Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham reminded that the goals of Brunei Vision 2035 include achieving a quality of life which is worthy of the world’s top 10 nations.

The minister then cited the aims of the Multisectoral Taskforce for Health established in February 2017, which include giving every child the best start in life (to reduce obesity); improving Brunei’s food environment (to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables); supporting active communities (decrease physical inactivity through strengthening community engagement); and reducing smoking.

“The targets include a decrease in childhood obesity rates for the next two years (until 2020); achieving a 30 per cent increase in the prevalence of adults consuming at least five portions of fruits and vegetables by 2019 (from eight per cent in 2016 to 10 per cent in 2019); to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use from 20 per cent in 2016 to 16 per cent by 2020; and the prevalence of adult physical inactivity at nine per cent by 2020,” he said.

“With strong political commitment and support among our small population, many of the deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) can be prevented through simple lifestyle-related changes; and I believe that our country can do it.”