KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - “1-2-3,” shouts Dr. Noradhiah Tumirin, a physician and fitness trainer. “You can do it,” she enthusiastically says as her client Sarah Baharudin is lying flat on her back and struggling to lift her legs from the ground to a 90-degree angle.
Baharudin, age 35, is breathing heavily throughout the workout. She’s 165 centimeters tall and weighs 110 kilograms.
“I eat traditional Malay food, yes and it’s high in fat and calorie,” Baharudin says while explaining how she became obese. “On top of that I was not active, not living an active lifestyle, did not exercise. So years after years of doing that it becomes obesity.”
Baharudin’s story is a common one across Malaysia. Approximately half of the country’s adults are overweight or obese and about thirty percent of the youth are.
Baharudin and her overweight husband, Nazrul Mohammad, are trying to change their lifestyles by exercising regularly and eating healthier food.
Tumirin, a retired Malaysian Army Major who’s 157 centimeters tall and a very fit 56 kilos, says the country’s obesity crisis is behind increasing rates of non-communicable diseases. “This obesity will lead to multiple illnesses such as hypertension, high cholesterol, heart illnesses and diabetes.” she says.
Kevin Zahri is one of Malaysia’s leading fitness influencers. He founded a local weight loss movement called Jom Kurus which translates to lets get thin or lets lose weight.
Every year, thousands of overweight and obese Malaysians join six-week-long Jom Kurus fitness camps across the country. They meet several times a week for exercises and lessons on nutrition, plus there are social media support groups for constant encouragement. At one recent session, participants did leg lifts, push ups and stretches.
"The program is designed to help somebody not feel alone and jump on the bandwagon with a group of people who are of similar physical stature and similar objectives, goals and desires,” Zahri said. He says the average participant loses four to five kilos during the six week program. But the real goal is to get them to lead healthy lifestyles long after.
“We are hoping the six-week program can become the kick start in the longevity of their journey,” Zahri said.
But while Jom Kurus and other programs are helping Malaysians change their lifestyles, it’s clear these fitness routines are just scratching the surface of this nation’s obesity crisis.
“All said and done the amount of people we’ve targeted in comparison to the number in the population which are obese is still very very small,” Zahri said.