By Dr. Kaycee Reyes
Holiday ham, lechon, keso de bola, kakanin, fruit salad. Tell us, have you been naughty or nice with your eating habits this year? If you have been “naughty” as a lot of us might have been, you might want to rethink your choices and start with a clean slate soon.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 16 million disability adjusted life years (DALYs, which is a measure of early death and the possible years of life lost because of disability) and 1.7 million of deaths worldwide are because of low fruit and vegetable consumption. And low consumption of healthy food does not translate to a generation of individuals eating less. Apparently, the number of obese people worldwide has ballooned to a 500 percent increase, from 105 million individuals in 1975 to a whopping 641 million in 2014. And if that is not alarming enough, our country is facing the same dilemma.
The number of obese Filipinos has doubled in the last 20 years, from 16.6 percent in 1993 to 31.1 percent in 2013. This huge jump may be attributed to the changes in Filipino’s food choices, opting for more fatty or sugary food and choosing lesser vegetables. Higher costs of fresh fruits and vegetables than processed ones, and the lack of nutrition information labels do not help Filipinos choose better food either. And obesity is not just about the scale. Obesity is a risk factor for a lot of non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancers, and respiratory diseases. According to WHO, the possibility of death from these NCD’s are 28 percent in 2012, with respiratory illnesses at the highest, and has been increasing in number since the turn of the millennium. Moreover, raised blood pressure and obesity are among the top risk factors of NCD’s.
While it is unfortunate that a lot of Filipinos have poor food choices, eating habits can always be modified, and it is always better to start early, and start young. The Department of Health (DOH) is currently working with local government units (LGU) to stop vendors from selling food nearby or around the school perimeter, as it has been found that most food offered by these stalls are high in salt and fat that may be detrimental to children’s health in the long run. The Department of Education (DepEd) also has a current memorandum banning all public school canteens from selling sugary, salty, and fatty food to students, such as soft drinks, powdered juice drinks, and deep fried food. For children, it is not only obesity that is increasing, malnourishment is peaking as well. In the past 15 years, hunger among Filipinos rose from 11 percent in 1998 to 19.5 percent in 2013 according to a survey of Social Weather Station (SWS). This is why food programs such as feeding programs by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) exist to help especially those children from low income families to get adequate nutrition.
Moreover, a lot of house bills are in line to address inadequate nutrition in the country, such as milk feeding programs, school feeding programs, and nationwide nutrition programs for schools and barangay health centers. The country’s National Nutrition Council (NNC) also works closely with various government sectors and the food industry to increase awareness on the importance of a healthy diet, either through media or through programs to make healthy eating a daily habit.
The government is taking steps to curb the growing unhealthy eating lifestyle of Filipinos with food programs and legislations. The habit of healthy eating, however, starts with you. Taking time to prepare your own food, rather than buying fast food, will reap major health benefits in the long run. And contrary to belief, buying your own fruits and vegetables and preparing them yourself may even be more cost-efficient than say, eating a salad from a restaurant. If you are not sure where to start, consult a nutritionist and find out how to manage your diet. While it is best to start early and start young, it is still better to make healthy eating a habit today rather than tomorrow.