Despite retiring 15 years ago, award-winning nutritionist Dr Tee E Siong vows to continue helping the nation combat obesity, especially in the younger generation.

Dr Tee, 70, says he wants to continue contributing to public health in his capacity as the long-serving president of the Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM).

He helped set up the society in 1985 to promote nutrition science in the country and internationally.

“We have a lot more work to do to tackle this disease. I really hope that we have more nutritionists who can champion this cause. A study I conducted in 2015 showed that 30% of Malaysian children are affected by overweight/obesity. With each passing moment, the problem gets more serious.

“Policymakers need to do something concrete and systematic to tackle this disease.

“We can start by educating children about obesity in schools. This will help prevent them from being obese adults in the years to come,” he explains.

Dr Tee says that through NSM, he wants to continue advising the Government on measures that can be taken to decrease the rate of obesity in the country.

“I am trying to get nutrition societies in South-East Asia to work together and share their experiences. Together, we will be a strong force in combating obesity,” he says.

He initiated the establishment of the South-East Asia Public Health Nutrition Network and is chairman of the organisation.

The rise in obesity in Malaysia is one of the “dramatic changes” that Dr Tee has encountered since starting his career as a nutritionist for the Institute of Medical Research (IMR) in 1972. He was selected to lead the Human Nutrition department in 1984, and retired as the head of the Cardiovascular, Diabetes and Nutrition Research Centre in 2002 after 30 years of service.

Despite having such an illustrious career, Dr Tee says he only realised that he wanted to pursue nutrition while attending Universiti Malaya (UM) from 1969 to 1972.

“It was still quite a new field when I was in university. Food is something that is near and dear to us. Many people seem to think that just because they eat everyday, they would already know all there is to know about eating and living healthily. But in fact, they don’t.

“I thought there was more work to be done in promoting nutrition in the country. There weren’t many nutritionists around at that time, so I thought why not enter this field?” he shares.

After graduating with a degree in Biochemistry from UM in 1972, Dr Tee obtained a diploma and master’s degree in Applied Nutrition from the University of Indonesia. He later obtained his PhD from Universiti Sains Malaysia in 1991.

Dr Tee’s ingenuity, dedication and work in the field of nutrition has led to him being the recipient of the 2016 Asia Pacific Clinical Nutrition Society Award.

The award recognises his outstanding contributions to the health and wellbeing of not only Malaysians, but also people in the region.

Dr Tee says never did he expect to be honoured with such a prestigious award.

“I started out my career as a researcher. When I was promoted to become the head of my department, I became even more interested in finding out about the nutrition problems faced by Malaysians. That was why I decided to do my PhD.

“I feel very humbled to receive the award and be in the company of giants in the field. I am very proud that Malaysia’s work in nutrition is also being recognised,” he says.