I was born and grew up in Malaysia until my upper secondary school higher school certificate examination, after which I went to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, US. I majored in in nutrition and dietetics and took these courses at the College of St. Catherine, St. Paul.
My interest in public health nutrition started in my first year undergraduate course after witnessing the suffering from hunger and poverty in low-income countries as result of the energy crisis in 1973. I then changed my major to nutrition to learn and to understand better the political economy of diseases and malnutrition. It was also a time when when the blame on protein alone for malnutrition shifted, and the importance of lack of energy and protein was recognised. The problem of protein and energy deficits at the time were still rampant, and they are closely related to economic inequality, unfair trade, political and ideological maneuvering, such as the dispensing of food aid or food for peace for countries in needs under Public Law 480 of the United States.
After graduation I read for a master’s degree in clinical nutrition in Rush University, Chicago, and worked for a short period as a dietitian. However, the hospital environment did not interest me and I later went to Columbia University, New York. to earn a master’s degree in community nutrition and nutrition education and subsequently a doctorate in nutrition and public health.
When I came back to Malaysia I became a nutrition and public health lecturer at the school of medical sciences at the University of Science, Penang, for 17 years, where we carried out my community public health nutrition projects and research, particularly on topics related to undernutition, obesity, and quality of life of underprivileged populations. We later established the new school of health sciences, and started two new undergraduate programmes in dietetics and in nutrition.
I see nutrition as an essential and integral part of health and wellness, however, at the macro or societal level, improvement in socioeconomic status is still the cornerstone for improvement in nutrition and health status in developing countries of today. Thus injustice and inequality are enemies that need to be defeated first.