International Journal of Public Health

, Volume 57, Issue 2, pp 279–288 | Cite as

Determinants of body weight status in Malaysia: an ethnic comparison

  • Andrew K. G. TanEmail author
  • Steven T. Yen
  • Mustapha I. Feisul
Original Article



To investigate the roles of sociodemographic and health lifestyle factors in affecting body mass index (BMI) across ethnic groups in Malaysia.


Data are obtained from 2,436 observations from the Malaysia Non-Communicable Disease Surveillance-1. The multi-ethnic sample is segmented into Malay, Chinese, and Indian/other ethnicities. Ordered probit analysis is conducted and marginal effects of sociodemographic and health lifestyle variables on BMI calculated.


Malays between 41 and 58 years are more likely to be overweight or obese than their 31–40 years counterparts, while the opposite is true among Chinese. Retirees of Chinese and Indian/other ethnicities are less likely to be obese and more likely to have normal BMI than those between 31 and 40 years. Primary educated Chinese are more likely to be overweight or obese, while tertiary-educated Malays are less likely to suffer from similar weight issues as compared to those with only junior high school education. Affluent Malays and Chinese are more likely to be overweight than their low-middle income cohorts. Family illness history is likely to cause overweightness or obesity, irrespective of ethnicity. Malay cigarette smokers have lower overweight and obesity probabilities than non-cigarette smokers.


There exists a need for flexible policies to address cross-ethnic differences in the sociodemographic and health-lifestyle covariates of BMI.


BMI Ethnicity Health lifestyle Malaysia Sociodemographics 



Research support from the Universiti Sains Malaysia Research University (RU) grant (Grant No. 1001/PSOSIAL/816072) is acknowledged. We thank the Director General of the Ministry of Health Malaysia for sharing the data and permission to publish.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Swiss School of Public Health 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew K. G. Tan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Steven T. Yen
    • 2
  • Mustapha I. Feisul
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Social SciencesUniversiti Sains MalaysiaMindenMalaysia
  2. 2.Department of Agricultural and Resource EconomicsThe University of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA
  3. 3.Disease Control Division, Department of Public HealthMinistry of Health MalaysiaPutrajayaMalaysia

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