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Let’s talk about obesity

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Apr 02, 2024 5:00 am

Regarding obesity, awareness of the problem is always the first step to prevention and management. In observance of World Obesity Day last March 4, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the World Obesity Federation joined forces with the Global Obesity Coalition to launch this year’s campaign, “Let’s Talk About Obesity and...”

WHO released the latest key facts on obesity worldwide. In 2022, one out of eight people were obese. Obesity has more than doubled since 1990 and adolescent obesity has quadrupled. In 1990, one fourth of adults aged 18 years and above were overweight. That jumped to 43 percent of adults 18 and above classified as overweight by 2022 or double the percentage in 22 years. In figures, 2.5 billion adults were overweight and 890 million were obese.

Around 27 million Filipinos are obese. If no positive action is taken, the estimate is that in 2030, one in three Filipino adolescents will suffer from this complex disease.

For children and adolescents aged five to 19 years old, overweight (including obese) numbers correspond to eight percent in 1990 but jumped to 20 percent in 2022. That’s almost triple the percentage. More alarming is the growth of obese children and adolescents, which quadrupled from two percent in 1990 to eight percent in 2022.

According to a survey between July 2021 and June 2022, 38.6 percent of adults aged 20 and 59 in the Philippines were diagnosed as obese or overweight. Obesity increases the risk for severe diseases and health conditions such as hypertension, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Five out of the 10 leading causes of death in the Philippines were obesity-related complications, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). Locally, obesity increased from 20 percent in 1998 to 37 percent in 2019. In a 2022 survey, the highest percentage of obese or overweight adults occur in the National Capital Region (NCR) at 39 percent.

Obesity is brought about by the imbalance between energy input through food, and energy output through physical activity. This can be corrected through proper diet and exercise.

The Department of Health (DOH) claimed that based on the research of the Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute in 2022, around 27 million Filipinos are overweight and obese. What is more alarming is that overweight and obesity levels among adolescents increased from 4.9 percent in 2003 to 11.6 percent in 2018. If no positive action is taken, the estimate is that in 2030, one out of three Filipino adolescents will suffer from this complex disease.

In the 2023 Journal of the ASEAN Federation of Endocrine Societies, it was noted that a US study in 2010 revealed that employees who work long hours and who work for large companies were mostly overweight or obese.

In the Philippines, a 57 percent prevalence of overweight or obesity is noted due to the sedentary work of the employees. The problem was made worse by the work environment restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. The work-from-home (WFH) concept led to an overall decrease in physical activity and an increase in snacking and meal frequency. 

A recent study among Filipino adults, who are WFH in Metro Cebu, revealed that a high of 79.18 percent of them were aware of obesity as a disease and the risk, complications, and related diseases it brings. Knowledge about the importance of waist circumference had the lowest awareness score. Only a small percentage was also aware that cancer is an obesity-related complication. 

This determined overweight man is reclaiming his health, one step at a time.

The body mass index (BMI) or weight (kg)/height² (m²) measures obesity. For adults, WHO defines overweight as a BMI greater than or equal to 25, and obesity as a BMI greater than or equal to 30. Since overweight and obesity result from an excess of energy intake (food) versus energy expenditure (physical activity), the treatment is also through proper diet and sufficient regular exercise. 

The Philippine Association for the Study of Overweight and Obesity (PASOO) and the Nutrition Center of the Philippines (NCP) promote research and programs to help prevent and manage overweight and obesity.

In previous observance of World Obesity Day, PASOO president Dr. Nemencio Nicodemus Jr. issued the following statement: “Obesity is a global issue. However, in the Philippines, 36.6 percent of Filipinos 20 years old and above are either overweight or obese based on WHO BMI cutoff points (FNRI, 2019). The obesity issue is closer to home. The FNRI nationwide survey further showed that 40.6 percent of Filipino adults were considered physically inactive in 2019. Imagine how many more were added during the COVID-19 pandemic. Let us prevent the rise in obesity. Persons with obesity need our help and empathic support. Management will need a team approach with the patient at the center.”

According to the WHO, the factors contributing to the increasing problem of obesity in the Philippines include poor diets, inadequate nutrition, failing food systems, and limited physical activity. These problems need multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary collaborations and solutions. Everybody needs to act!

At the end of the day, maintaining your ideal weight might require a lifestyle change. Once you have admitted and realized that you are obese or overweight, you must accept that you, as the owner of your body, is in charge. Evaluate your daily activities and eating habits. What daily decisions contribute to an excess of caloric input versus energy output?

The normal culprits that lead to overshooting the normal 2,000-calorie requirement for women and 2,500 calories for men are the following: too many snacks—especially chips—fondness for soda, juices and iced drinks, frequent dine-ins or take-outs, eating too many breads and pastries, fondness for sweets and desserts. It’s either what you eat or the complete lack of exercise and activities that create the imbalance.

Building healthier habits together.

There are many factors that are considered in computing how many calories you need to take and what percentage of those are from carbohydrates, protein, and fat. It would be best to go to a professional for evaluation and dietary prescription, but while waiting for that you can already make some small, necessary changes.

If you believe you can eat your meals within eight hours in a day, that will be a good way of decreasing your food intake or at least setting time schedules for eating. Intermittent fasting (IF) this way is like the “no solids” after 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. craze. Every individual is different. Check whether you would prefer IF or grazing/snacking on small, frequent meals every two to three hours. Some might prefer sticking to three big meals with no snacks in between.

For exercise, remember that WHO recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week plus two days of strength-building sessions. Can you allot at least 20 to 30 minutes to walk after a big meal? Can you commit to 5,000 or more steps per day? Can you commit to taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work? Can you park farther away from the office to incorporate more steps?

Be aware every day. Be informed and educated on ways to live healthier.