Obesity as a growing concern among Filipinos

PIXABAY

Around 27 million Filipinos are overweight and obese, based on the latest survey of the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI).  

If no action is taken, overall rates of overweight and obesity will continue to rise, with more than 30% of Filipino adolescents projected to be overweight and obese by 2030, warned the Department of Health (DoH), the National Nutrition Council (NNC), the Philippine Association for the Study of Overweight and Obesity (PASOO), the Nutrition Center of the Philippines (NCP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on the occasion of World Obesity Day.  

Overweight and obese Filipino adults increased to 36.6% of the population in 2019 from 20.2% in 1998. Meanwhile, the prevalence rates of overweight and obesity among Filipino adolescents more than doubled to 11.6% in 2018 from 4.9% in 2003. 

The WHO defines overweight and obesity as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health. Overweight and obesity in adults are commonly classified using body mass index (BMI) defined as a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters (kg/m2).  

Overweight is a BMI greater than or equal to 25. Obesity is a BMI greater than or equal to 30. In children, overweight and obesity are classified based on the number of weight-for-height standard deviations above the WHO Child Growth Standards median. 

The fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended —too much drinking and eating but not enough physical activity.  

Globally, there has been an increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars. Moreover, there has also been an increase in physical inactivity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization, the WHO explained. 

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, which limited mobility for health and safety reasons, has compounded the growing obesity concern.  

According to the WHO, overweight and obesity are linked to more deaths worldwide than underweight. There are more people who are obese than underweight in every region of the world, except parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.  

Raised BMI is a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, mainly heart disease and stroke; diabetes; musculoskeletal disorders, especially osteoarthritis, a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints; some cancers including endometrial, breast, ovarian, prostate, liver, gallbladder, kidney, and colon. As a person’s BMI increases, so does the risk for these NCDs. 

Childhood obesity is associated with a higher chance of obesity, premature death and disability in adulthood. On top of increased future risks, obese children experience breathing difficulties, increased risk of fractures, hypertension, early markers of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and psychological effects, the WHO stated. 

To address the growing problem of obesity in the Philippines, the DoH, NNC, and national partners recommend specific actions: 

Implement policies, legislation, and interventions to promote physical activity including active transport and promotion of green, blue, and open spaces in communities and workplaces. As in other health priorities, strengthen and sustain appropriate social and behavior change communication on healthy diet and physical activity.  
Implement policies and interventions to promote, protect, and support infant and young child nutrition, especially in the first 1000 days of life to prevent stunting and reduce risk for children to become obese in their later lives.  
Develop a strategy with corresponding funds, human resources, and accountability mechanisms, including empowering the health system with dedicated programs on obesity across the life stage.  
Improve data, monitoring, and enforcement of laws relating to food products.  
Provide subsidies to farmers and fisherfolk and increase access to nutritious food.  
Use social protection programs such as 4Ps to improve access to healthy food, especially in times of disasters.  
Promote healthy school food environments for children. 
In the case of obesity, it has once again been proven that prevention is better than cure.  

Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), which represents the biopharmaceutical medicines and vaccines industry in the country. Its members are at the forefront of research and development efforts for COVID-19 and other diseases that affect Filipinos.