Overweight and obesity
Excessive fatness or overweight, in children and adults alike, has been prevalent in the country in the last five years. If this is not averted, Pedro said, it might lead to obesity which means a person has 120 percent of the desired body weight vis a vis a person’s height.
Although the number overweight Filipinos has not reached alarming proportions, Pedro said it has increased threefold from 0.4 percentage in 1998 to 1.4 percent in 2003 among children 0 to 5 years of age.
This condition should not be taken for granted, according to Pedro because overweight or obese children might suffer from certain heart and other cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and hypertension when they grow old.
The FNRI statistics showed that overweight and obesity is more prevalent among young adults aged 20 to 39 years old and among adults aged 40 to 59 years old. In 2003, 20.6 percent of young adults and 30 percent of adults were found overweight and obese.
Pedro said obesity and overweight maybe be caused by a diet rich in fats, carbohydrates and bad cholesterol. It might also be due to the changing lifestyle where children and young adults are less active and unable to burn their calories.
The 2001 records of the Department of Health (DOH) showed that among the top 10 causes of morbidity are hypertension and diseases of the heart.
Nutritionist Natalie Pulvinar of the Samahan ng Nagtataguyod ng Agham at Teknolohiya Para sa Sambayanan (Agham or Advocates of Science and Technology for the People) said that more prevalent today in Third World countries like the Philippines is what is called “hidden hunger” or micro-nutrient deficiency. This means that while Filipinos might still have something on their tables, these do not contain the proper nutrients that are needed for healthy minds and bodies.
FNRI 2003 statistics show that 66 percent of infants 0 to 6 months old suffer from anemia or lack of iron while 29 percent of children 1 to 5 years old suffer from the same.
The prevalence of hidden hunger is basically due to the lack of nutrition in a person’s diet.
Nowadays, many poor Filipino families subsist on P5-instant noodles, P3-grilled chicken innards such as isaw (intestine) and balun-balunan (gizzard), and other street foods, grilled and fried. Also common are meals of plain rice with a dash of salt, particularly in urban centers, and of camote (sweet potato) in rural areas.
Instant noodles’ labels show they are only high in carbohydrates and sodium. Pedro herself said instant noodles do not contain proteins, vitamins or minerals, and therefore do not provide a balanced diet.
Dr. Famela Santos, M.D., of the Council for Health and Development (CHD), said most manufacturers of instant noodles emit the fiber from the noodles leaving it rich only with carbohydrates. Although the DOH has approved the instant noodle varieties as “fortified foods” – meaning it contains essential vitamins – Santos said instant noodles succeeds only in filling the stomach. Although reportedly fortified with vitamin A and iodine, instant noodles are only rich in carbohydrates, salt and monosodium glutamate. These, she said, are not enough to make children healthy.
Kids who are constantly fed with instant noodles may at times look healthy because they appear fat. But according to Santos, the fatness is mainly caused by edema because instant noodles can cause bloating. These are the kids who are called “ampaw” in Filipino, which literally means puffed rice. Though fat, these children are also considered malnourished, according to Santos.
Meanwhile, Filipino ingenuity also gave birth to grilled parts of chicken and pork which in some countries are considered scrap. From chicken feet to chicken head and neck, and pork ears to pork intestines, these foods are popular primarily because they are cheap and can be found at almost every street corner in urban areas.
Santos also explained that although these foods, while priced cheaper than the prized parts of chicken and pork, also contain protein, they may also cause illnesses such as hepatitis A or amoebiasis if not thoroughly cleaned and properly cooked. Others, such as fried chicken skin, are high in cholesterol which if habitually eaten, may deadly diseases such as hypertension and heart ailments.
Since studies show that Filipinos from all ages suffer from vitamin A, iron and iodine deficiencies, the government introduced a program called food fortification, a process of adding essential vitamins and minerals to commonly eaten foods.
The program started in the 1950s when beri-beri, an illness caused by lack of vitamin B1 or thiamine, became prevalent in the country. Pedro said that rice, the Filipinos staple food, was then fortified with vitamin B1 to help eradicate the disease. Beri-beri was considerably lessened but has resurfaced in recent years, Pedro said. Meanwhile, in response to the need for vitamin A, there are now rice varieties available in the market fortified with vitamin A.
It was on Nov. 7, 2000 however that the government enacted the Philippine Food Fortification Act of 2000, encouraging manufacturers of food commonly eaten by Filipinos – such as instant noodles, margarine, powdered juices, canned goods and even soft drinks – to fortify their products with vitamin A, iodine and iron.
The DOH tags some of these products with the “Sangkap Pinoy” seal.
Pedro however admitted that food fortification may only help alleviate the country’s nutritional status to a certain level but will not cure the country’s malnutrition problem.
According to Pedro, the answer to the malnutrition problem is a balanced diet that is accessible to the poor especially those in from the rural areas. Particularly since a big percentage of malnourished Filipinos comes from the lower income brackets.
Furthermore, she said, the poor should eat a variety of foods because no single food can provide what a person needs to be healthy.
Pulvinar however said that to achieve this, the poor should first be given the power to purchase nutritious foods.
“The poor eat what they eat not because they are not educated on the nutritional value of their food but only out of a lack of choice,” she said.