I’m not the kind of person who will stand up and get angry about negative Malaysia-directed content just for patriotism’s sake.
You can love a country, and not think in absolutes.
You can love your country, and still want it to do better in certain aspects. I think that’s normal.
But what I am against is calling Malaysians out unfairly.
Sure, I didn’t question it when I first heard it.
But after looking a little closer, here are some of the issues that should be brought up in any discussions about that study, particularly when it comes to calling Malaysians lazy.
1. The original study focuses on “obesity” rather than “laziness”.
Here’s a direct quote from the Stanford News piece covering the study:
“In countries with little obesity, people mostly walked a similar amount per day. But big gaps between people who walked a lot and those who walked very little coincided with much higher levels of obesity.”
Yes, it’s true that Malaysia was found to be third from the bottom when it comes to number of steps taken a day.
But for some reason, a study on the correlation between steps taken and obesity was interpreted as levels of a country’s laziness.
However, there’s no mention of “laziness” (or lazy) in the study.
It’s true that Malaysia might be one of the more obese countries. But connecting lack of steps taken to laziness is a big jump, considering the next point…
2. Malaysia is not a pedestrian-friendly country.
The study, by its very nature, is skewed towards countries that have a more ingrained pedestrian culture.
I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Malaysia is simultaneously the “third laziest country”, and also the “third highest in car ownership” (at least in 2014).
Malaysia is just not designed for walkers. Many Malaysians will testify that trying to walk to quite a few places might put you in danger of accidents or of crime.
There are often no pedestrian walkways, and the ones that we do have might not be maintained well.
If riding the trains or buses isn’t a viable option for Malaysians, it puts them back either into driving, ride-hailing or taxi-ing there—all not walker-friendly.
3. What does walking have to do with being lazy anyway?
You could be in a gym working out but you still wouldn’t be walking and adding steps to that pedometer count.
The study itself acknowledged this, stating “our dataset may fail to capture time spent in activities where it is impractical to carry a phone”.
Alternatively, if someone spends the entire day seated but remains productive and working on project after project, would you quantify that as lazy, still?
The term “laziness” means more than just inactivity and not moving around.
Someone walking around aimlessly is clocking more “unlaziness” steps for Malaysia, but accomplishes less than someone seated at their desk, coding a new software, for example.
4. It might just be the weather.
It’s a known fact: it’s way too sunny to be walking around everywhere in Malaysia.
We have very small windows of shade in the morning and evening for any walking activities, and even trek enthusiasts will favour shady areas like forests.
This is not to mention our sunny season in the year, as well as the El Nino heatwave.
This was one of the facts that was most often invoked in social media comments of that article, but this person made a noteworthy point.
And as for Singapore, the reason why they walk does have a direct correlation to their pedestrian-friendly culture.
The island nation is very well-connected with public transport, and the fact that it’s very expensive to own a car in Singapore surely plays a role in their preferring to adopt the relatively cheaper public transportation.
And let me just put a disclaimer here: I have no issues with the actual study.
In fact, I think that it’s a worthwhile observation to make, judging from the correlation they found. It may lead to more breakthroughs in the future when it comes to understanding our health.
But I think the wrong conclusions were drawn from Stanford’s data presentation and information.
Rather than focus on how “Malaysians are lazy” perhaps it would be more constructive to figure out and deal with obesity instead, which is a valid health risk and should be addressed.
If walking more might help reduce general obesity, what would help?
For those in the Klang Valley, the new MRT project is one of the ways we might see a more inter-connected city. As Singapore has demonstrated, having a decent public transport system in place does encourage more people to commute.
Ideally, it’ll keep the roads from being so congested every day. We might just also be more motivated to move and walk around more rather than drive everywhere.
Having a good transport system is the first step. Now let’s see about those pedestrian walkways and shaded areas that’ll make Malaysia much more walker-friendly.
Feature Image Credit: Photo Walk KL