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Indonesia is facing challenges with obesity problems.
Science & Health

Indonesia is facing challenges with obesity problems.

At Slim Fit Studio, the women move their bodies in rhythm to songs by Cardi B and Guns N’ Roses, turning and swaying their hips. The instructor, R Niken Ayu Larasati, calls out “1-2-3” as the participants raise and lower their arms while shuffling their feet forward. These women make exercise a regular part of their routines, but not all of them have always had this habit.

Yuliana, age 29, is from Indonesia and, like many Indonesians, has a one-word name. She is 150 cm tall and weighs 110 kg. Yuliana stated, “I didn’t exercise enough and had an unhealthy diet.”

Unfortunately, her experience is a familiar one in this nation. According to statistics from the Ministry of Health, almost half of Indonesian women are classified as overweight or obese, which is nearly twice the rate of men. On March 4, World Obesity Day serves as an opportunity for various health advocacy organizations to highlight this important concern.

Diah Saminarsih, the CEO of the Center for Indonesia’s Strategic Development Initiatives, expressed alarm over the rising rates of obesity among males and females of all ages in Indonesia. However, she emphasized that the growing trend among adult women is particularly worrisome. The Center is a non-government organization that primarily addresses health concerns.

“As a result, there has been a rise in individuals suffering from long-term health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and conditions such as renal failure and diabetes,” she observed.

Diah Saminarsih, CEO of the Center for Indonesia’s Strategic Development Initiatives, says there needs to be more research to determine why Indonesian women have significantly higher rates of obesity than Indonesian men. (Dave Grunebaum/VOA)

According to Diah Saminarsih, the CEO of the Center for Indonesia’s Strategic Development Initiatives, further research is necessary to understand the reasons behind the considerable difference in obesity rates between Indonesian men and women.

Saminarsih and other proponents of health assert that it is unclear why female Indonesians have notably higher rates than males. However, one possible explanation could be that, in Indonesian households, women often adhere to traditional gender roles.

According to Saminarsih, women take on a variety of tasks in society, including cooking, caring for their children, and balancing work and home life. They also tend to socialize more than men, which may lead to increased consumption of food. However, more research is needed to better understand the underlying factors.

Saminarsih stated that in various locations, it has become more convenient for families to obtain unhealthy food options in recent times, whether it be at fast food establishments or through sugary beverages sold in stores.

According to Saminarsih, previously, unhealthy food was not affordable for a large portion of the Indonesian population because it was mostly imported. However, with the increase in local production, the prices have decreased, resulting in unhealthy, high calorie foods being more affordable than healthy options.

Health advocates say unhealthy foods have become more accessible across Indonesia, and they’re often cheaper than healthy food. (Dave Grunebaum/VOA)

According to health activists, there has been a rise in availability of unhealthy food in Indonesia, which is typically less expensive compared to healthy options. (Dave Grunebaum/VOA)

Nutrition specialist David Colozza from UNICEF Indonesia also noted that with the shift from rural to urban areas, families tend to have jobs that involve less physical labor.

Colozza stated that there has been a shift towards office and manufacturing jobs rather than farm work. They also mentioned that the widespread accessibility of heavily processed foods high in sugar, fat, and salt plays a significant role.

According to Colozza, in certain communities, it is more convenient and accessible to obtain ultra-processed foods compared to healthier options like fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, high levels of air pollution in cities like Jakarta, Indonesia can hinder individuals from engaging in outdoor activities.

Health experts are optimistic due to the growing number of fitness facilities and increasing focus on health education. According to Saminarsih, there is a noticeable increase in awareness of the advantages of physical activity and dedicated advocates are spreading the concept throughout various communities in Indonesia.

“Furthermore, health activists are advocating for additional measures such as stricter labeling regulations on packaging to provide a clearer indication of unhealthy food items, as well as a tax on sugary beverages.”

Colozza suggested that this could potentially decrease the motivation for individuals to purchase these items, as well as motivate food and beverage companies to modify their products in order to decrease the sugar content. Additionally, the funds generated from the tax should ideally be allocated towards initiatives that support overall health, such as combating obesity.

Yuliana joins the group at Slim Fit Studio to dance on the floor. She has successfully lost seven kilograms since November. Yuliana shares that she has been actively working out four times a week and making healthier food choices. This type of lifestyle change is encouraged by health advocates for more overweight and obese individuals in Indonesia.