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Theses and Dissertations

Name:Sylvia Lim Siew Boon
Professor:David A. Himmelgreen

Obesity and dining out: An exploration of dietary trends in urban Malaysia


Economic growth spurred rapid urbanization in Malaysia and triggered changes in diet, lifestyle and health patterns. National studies show that nearly half of Malaysia’s population is overweight/obese; dining options flourish while household expenditure on dining out grew. In the metropolitan capital of Kuala Lumpur (KL), residents navigate notions of nutrition, weight and health as they eat out. Using the biocultural framework, this study examines the links between body weight, diet, income, street food consumption and nutritional knowledge through the perspectives of consumers and vendors. Altogether, 71 participants were recruited for this three-phase research. In the first phase, a survey was administered participants (n=55) recruited at street food sites around KL. In the second phase, semi-structured interviews, anthropometry and dietary recall were conducted on 12 participants. Lastly, semi-structured interviews and observations were carried out on street food vendors (n=4) at their businesses.

Though the findings in this research did not show statistical relationships between weight status, income, and dining out in KL, they revealed key factors that influence diet and lifestyle trends. Work appears to mediate the lives of participants, often dictating their diet and capacity to engage in physical activity. Most female participants work, but they still bear the expectations of meal provisioning. These factors play a role in the commercialization and gentrification of the local street food industry. When viewed through the critical medical anthropology lens within the biocultural framework, these observations support the idea that the domestic economic policies, following Malaysia's trade liberalization, ushered demographic changes, household transformations, and dietary adaptations among KL urban dwellers.