Fifty-one per cent of school-aged children are overweight or obese, prompting serious concerns of a growing youth obesity epidemic, said a Ministry of Health (MoH) official on Sunday.

According to data collected in the most recent National Health and Nutritional Status Survey conducted in 2011, 18 per cent of children aged five to 19 are obese, and a further 33 per cent are overweight.

Dr Alice Yong, a consultant endocrinologist and physician at MoH, said they are seeing more young patients being referred to Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha (RIPAS) Hospital’s Obesity Clinic.

“It is a worrying trend that many people are present with symptoms of heart disease at a young age,” she said during a presentation at the 3rd National Scientific Symposium held at Universiti Brunei Darussalam yesterday.

The majority of patients at the Obesity Clinic are women (60 per cent), who often want to lose weight to increase their chances of conceiving a child. The average age of both male and female participants is around 36 years.

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• 61% of Bruneians are overweight or obese 

• 1,193 have been referred to the govt obesity clinic

Dr Yong said that since 2006, 1,193 people have voluntarily joined or been referred to the Obesity Clinic by their physician.

According to data she presented, there is also a high prevalence of co-morbidities among patients, with approximately 57 per cent suffering from hypertension, 26 per cent from diabetes, nine per cent from cardiovascular disease, and eight per cent from gout.

She explained that the Obesity Clinic takes a multidiscilipinary approach to weight reduction that is not “weight-centric”, but focused on losing fat and gaining muscle.

“Weight loss of five to 10 per cent has significant improvements on health, and that’s what we aim for at the clinic,” Dr Yong said, where the average patient weight is 100kg.

RIPAS Hospital’s Obesity Clinic is the only place in Brunei that offers obesity management services, treating patients with a body mass index of 30 or more.

Dr Yong said their treatment programme, which began operation in 2006, is modelled on a similar programme at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney.

The Health Ministry said last September that Brunei is facing an obesity epidemic, and without swift reversal, premature deaths from cardiovascular disease will continue to rise with a “severe impact on economic development”.

Sixty-one per cent of Bruneians are overweight or obese — the highest rate in ASEAN — up from 44 per cent in 1997.