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Tackling obesity and its impact in the Philippines


By Cheshire Que, RND, RN, RD

Food pressures, technological advances, and fast-paced living have led us to be more sedentary and increased our consumption of caloric dense yet nutrient-deficient foods. All these factors contribute to the development of obesity. In addition, let us not disregard the genetic predisposition to obesity.

Bruno Kistner

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. A crude population measure of obesity is the body mass index (BMI), a person’s weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of his or her height (in meters). A person with a BMI of 30 or more is generally considered obese. A person with a BMI equal to or more than 25 is considered overweight.

Obesity has been highly associated with increased risk of developing non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer, to name a few.heavy burdens

The good news is that, obesity is very much preventable. An individual cannot possibly gain 20 lbs overnight, now could he? It takes time to accumulate fat in the body to make a person obese. Nip it at the bud. Do not allow yourself to be added to the 18 million Filipinos who are obese.

On July 11, 2017, The Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN)—a public-private partnership set up to tackle issues related to obesity, malnutrition, and non-communicable diseases—released a report on the prevalence of obesity and overweight in the Philippines as well as five other ASEAN countries. The Philippines faces 5.1 percent and 23.6 percent prevalence rates for obesity and overweight, respectively.

Among the six countries studied, the Philippines turned out to be the second lowest in the prevalence of obesity and overweight. Despite this low prevalence rates, however, 18 million obese Filipinos are still considered to be a large number. Obesity remains a problem in our country that has not been given much priority due to the fact that the Philippines is also battling its longstanding problem of malnutrition on the other side of the spectrum, an estimated seven million children who are currently experiencing hunger and malnutrition.

Apart from the debilitating consequences of obesity, it also impacts the economy. In 2016, the Philippines landed fourth-highest spender for obesity-related problems after spending between $500 million and $1 billion, resources that could have been used for other areas that could help improve the lives of the Filipino people.

“Tackling obesity can help free up resources in national healthcare systems and channel them to other areas that deserve attention,” said Dr. Simon Baptist, Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global chief economist who led the report.

Causes of obesity in the Philippines include lack of exercise and low dietary quality. Many adults are not physically active and children lack places to play in. In my opinion, misuse of social media, television, and the Internet consequently prevents us from engaging in daily exercise, too.

A recent study by the University of the Philippines found that young people in the Philippines are at a greater risk of non-communicable diseases due to the consumption of calorie or energy-dense and nutrient-poor food. This problem is exacerbated by growing urbanization and increased incomes.

The report highlighted more effective interventions that include low glycemic, low calorie, low fat, and low carbohydrate diets with regular exercise. These interventions have shown to be the most promising in reducing obesity among individual and population levels.

“There is no magic formula to solving the growing obesity epidemic in Asia. Governments in the region need to realize that obesity will be the number one healthcare challenge that we could face over the next two to three decades,” said Bruno Kistner, ARoFIIN secretary, who is responsible for driving the effectiveness of the ARoFIIN public-private partnership. “Every sector has a role to play. There must be proper undertakings among industry, government, and civil society. Real progress can only be made by constructive, transparent, and accountable engagement with all stakeholders.”

Our nation recently launched the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN) with obesity and overweight as one of the pillars.

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