Gemukness: “Deliberately unspecific term meaning overweight/obesity but in the Indonesian context. Hidden fatness.”

Ever wonder what the Indonesians refer to overweight or obese? Well now you know that it is “gemukness” or “gemuk.”

Now why am I writing about obesity on a blog about malnutrition in Indonesia? Good question. Malnutrition actually incorporates both the aspect of undernutrition and overnutrition– and in this case, obesity is associated with overnutrition.

In Indonesia, undernutrition however is a huge issue and is given more of a priority compared to overweight and obesity, because these are believed to be problems of wealthier countries.

Obesity is not just a problem for the wealthy.

However, obesity is not just seen in wealthy, high income countries or regions of the world where people can afford lavish meals and can afford to eat 10 meals a day. It is true that obesity does in fact increase with income, but that doesn’t mean that lower wealth areas aren’t affected as well. It has been shown that in Indonesia, especially in the outer islands, the rates of adult overweight and obesity are of similar, if not greater, magnitude as undernutrition. In this specific area, the poverty rates are higher than the major cities of the country, and the problem of “gemukness” is actually a greater double burden than undernutrition. Poor nutrition in the younger years and in mothers continue to contribute to the increased risk of obesity later on in life among adults who survive the malnutrition as a child and then end up in environments where they are more prone to be caught in obesity.

Because of this “surprise,” obesity in Indonesia is even more of a problem because of it is a “hidden problem.” Many people are not fully aware of the consequences they are faced with in their particular environments.

The rate of gemuk adult men and women in Indonesia has been significantly increasing over the last few decades, while the rate of malnourished men and women has decreased considerably. This research and information was taken from the Indonesian Family Life Surveys, and it was additionally shown that the proportion of gemuk men and women, of a BMI of greater than 25, almost doubled, and that the greatest increase was found in obese women. We see that undernutrition is actually declining, while overweight and obesity is increasing in Indonesian adults and the risks increase with age.

Of course, genetics was also tested and researched, just to see if it played even a slight role in the gemukness issue. But researchers were left to find that there is no absolute evidence that genetics plays a role in the growing problem of obesity. Rather, it has been found that the obesity problem is mainly caused by consequences seen during childhood like stunting and constrained fetal growth.

On the other hand, in more areas of the country where income increased, food consumption patterns seemed to suggest increased food intake which contributed to obesity in many people. The greatest increase in food intake was found from meat, fish and eggs, and in prepared foods, where the rates were nearly doubled! Indonesian people be eating lots of animal products!… and processed foods… However, with the scenario with processed foods, many people in low income areas of Indonesia are found to consume more processed foods because they are more affordable than food, say, compared to a farmers market with organic fruits and vegetables. With this said, many of these Indonesian people are found eating instant noodles instead of a good, healthy meal, just because they simply cannot afford it. Instant noodles are good and all, but the constant consumption of these cups of deliciousness are not beneficial for anyone’s health.

And on top of that, much of the physical and built environments in Indonesia are not very friendly in terms of encouraging physical exercise. Instead of bike lanes, pedestrian sidewalks, and parks, there are many many streets where processed foods are sold. Many of the school children purchase snacks from these street vendors and shops, but they do not get the right exercise to burn off the excessive snack consumption.

While undernutrition is a big issue in Indonesia, Gemukness, or obesity, is also just as big of an issue in this region of the world.

Now the questions we are left with are — What other consequences come from obesity? What do we do about it? How can we fix it?… After researching and studying about the obesity problem in Indonesia, I personally believe that one practical way to help control the problem is to continue to educate the people of Indonesia about the extent of the problem and how to change their lifestyle and diet to reduce the risks. This is due to the fact that many Indonesians are not even aware of the severity of the obesity issue in the country!

Written by Hannah

Shrimpton R., & C. Rokx. (2013). The Double Burden of Malnutrition in Indonesia, World Bank Jakarta, Report 76192-ID. Retrieved from http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/955671468049836790/pdf/761920WP0P12640Box0379884B00PUBLIC0.pdf.


2 thoughts on ““Gemukness”

  1. Maybe access to nutrient-rich foods is one problem, but have you considered other factors contributing to this obesity problem in poorer people? I would have thought lack of education into healthy foods would have a big part to play


    1. Lack of education could also be a factor within the obesity problem. We talk more about healthy foods and educating people about their health related to nutrition in some of the intervention blogs!


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