Thursday, June 9, 2011

OBESITY - Leave me my nasi lemak

Shahizan Hasnan, caterer, is selling up to 150 plates nasi lemak hot day in a primary school of 1000 students. This dish is probably the most popular in Malaysia: it is found everywhere, in roadside stalls as in hotels. It is eaten at any time of day or night by students, office workers and partygoers.

Yet recently, a debate raged about its effects on health, after the government suggested that it should only be offered one or two days per week in schools, not every day. It accuses the dish promote obesity in young people, to the chagrin of its supporters and its vendors. Admittedly, its Malay name - literally "fat rice" - clearly announces the color.

Under the new guidelines of the Ministry of Health of Malaysia, which take effect this month, the canteen will not serve nasi lemak only twice a week. Hamburgers, sausages and nuggets have also been banned. A plate of nasi lemak normal - rice cooked in coconut milk and served with a fried egg, anchovies and chili sauce - contains 496 calories.

Despite the assertion that it would not be good for health, many Malaysians have risen en masse to defend the dish, claiming that physical inactivity was the real cause of obesity, if we add the Western diet based soft drinks, burgers and fried foods. For Mr. Shahizan, 43, caterer, "if you look at the ingredients in the composition of the nasi lemak is a dish full.

It's a mistake to say that the nasi lemak is the cause of obesity. This may be due to what students eat after school, or inactivity. This whole story out of control. "To Hatimah Ahmad, 70, owner of the restaurant, the government should distinguish the nasi lemak sold in schools for 1 ringgit [25 cents] - rice, anchovy, egg and sambal paste - and the one with chicken, beef or squid, more calories.

However, a study by the National University of Malaysia shows that obesity in school-age children has increased from 11% in 2002 to 13.3% in 2008. It also established that 87% of them bought a drink and eat in the cafeteria of their school, nasi lemak and that was one of the most popular dishes.

The study also showed that 76% of students spent most of their time watching television or computer. Suddenly, the National Union of Teachers said the department should rather worry about what students eat outside of school. Adding a racial element to the debate, the Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia said that the caterers and small retailers, particularly ethnic Malays, who were selling nasi lemak, had suffered losses because of the charges against the dish.

The Malay daily Utasan Malaysia maintains that the initiative aimed at making nasi lemak an "enemy state" was motivated by racial arguments. He wondered why other dishes like roti prata [sort of flat bread and served hot with vegetables or meat curry] or the noodles were not declared unhealthy, and why the Department does has not ruled out the junk food or snacks.

While tensions were increasing, the Deputy Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin has reassured caterers: nasi lemak on will not be removed from school menus. He said: "We must find a menu that suits everyone." Choy Yi Zhen, a part of 39 years, explained to him. "I love my nasi lemak. Served with vegetables and chicken, it's perfect.

"Little Hisham Sofia, age 7, says, for her, she loves nasi lemak but she would not eat it every day.

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