By Imee Charlee C. Delavin

Filipinos among the least healthy in Asia -- survey

Posted on June 29, 2016

FILIPINOS were found to be among the least healthy in the region, according to a survey commissioned by the Philippine American Life and General Insurance Co. (Philam Life) that also cited high awareness but lack of action to improve health conditions.

Ariel “Aibee” G. Cantos Philam Life’s Chief Executive Officer at the Total Wellness conference on June 28. -- Imee Charlee C. Delavin
The Philippines scored 61 points -- out of the possible 100 -- in the third Healthy Living Index survey of over 10,000 adults across the 15 markets in the Asia Pacific and 764 Filipinos -- slipping to the 19th rank from the previous year’s 6th place, and scoring below the 64 points average in the region.

The country lagged behind China (72 points), Macau (70), Vietnam (67), Thailand (66), Sri Lanka (65), Australia (64), New Zealand and Malaysia (63) and Korea, India and Singapore which scored 61 points each.

“The Philippines scores a mediocre 61/100, below the regional average. [Its] Healthy Living Index has not been improving, while many other markets have shown improvements,” the study said, noting this is only better than Taiwan (59), Indonesia (58) and Hong Kong (57).

The subsidiary of the Hong Kong-based AIA Group Ltd. noted that the Philippines actually ranked lower this year, compared to the two previous surveys undertaken in 2011 and 2013.

“Scores in the Philippines have practically remained static,” Intuit Research director Thomas Isaac told a press briefing in Makati City on Tuesday, saying the country received a score of 63 in the 2011 survey, and 61 in the 2013 survey.

The study showed 80% of respondents said their health is not as good as five years ago, including 69% of adults under the age of 30 who feel this way, even though this younger age group should be at the prime of their health.

“They recognize that healthy living is multi-faceted, wherein good family relationships -- rated the most important -- physical elements such as eating healthily and getting sufficient sleep as well as good hygiene -- washing hands often -- and environmental factors such as food safety were ranked as the top five drivers,” it added, noting that in the country, exercise was not included in the top 5 drivers of healthy living as it was in most other markets.

Adults in the Philippines were also among the most sleep deprived in the region. While Filipino adults would ideally like to get 8.2 hours of sleep a night, in reality they only sleep 6.8 hours on average. This sleep deficit of 1.4 hours is one of the highest among the 15 markets.

“44% of adults in the Philippines are overweight due mainly to insufficient exercise and poor food habits, but only 25% would like to lose weight. 74% of adults in the Philippines say they exercise regularly, but on average adults in the Philippines exercise only 2.1 hours a week, lower than the regional average of 3 hours and well below what most experts would recommend,” it added.

Unhealthy eating habits are also common among Filipinos. The Philam-commissioned survey found 84% of those surveyed said they tend to eat while distracted, 81% admitted to eating unhealthy snacks between meals and 71% had their dinners close to bed time, while attempts to eat healthier are still restricted to the basics of drinking more water and eating more fruits and vegetables.

The survey also noted how Internet addiction is growing as a modern day threat to healthy living.

Adults in the Philippines spend 1.1 hours a day on the Internet for non-work purposes, much lower than the regional average of three hours. However, those who spend time online are aware of its negative impact on health: less time for sleep, less time for exercise and bad for their posture.

Meanwhile, the Healthy Living Index showed high levels of concern regarding health among Filipino adults “but only half have had a check-up in past year.”

“There are very high levels of concerns about many health conditions, all much higher than the regional averages. The main health concerns are heart disease (96%), having a stroke (96%), diabetes (96%), respiratory illnesses (95%), being bedridden/wheelchair bound (95%) and cancer (94%),” the survey noted.

It added that a significant number of adults admit to having concerns about mental well-being such as Alzheimer’s/senility (93%), anxiety (90%) and depression (90%). Despite their many health concerns, only 50% say they had a medical checkup in the past year, down from previous years (58% in 2011 and 54% in 2013).

Adults in the Philippines admitted they can definitely do more to improve their health (95%). Encouragingly, 21% say they have taken major steps towards to improve their health and 48% say that they have taken some small steps in that direction.

Motivators of healthy behaviors were seen as seeing tangible results -- feeling better mentally (88%) and physically (81%) -- would encourage them to do more.

“In line with the high importance attached to good family relationships as the most important driver of health for Filipinos, being a role model to their families (81%) is also a strong motivator and one that can be used in encouraging family-oriented healthy activities. They also say that helping them change one step at a time (87%) by setting smaller, more achievable goals (82%), providing updates on progress (80%) and getting rewards for achieving goals (78%) are all important motivators,” the study showed.

“While there is high awareness about the state of their health, such awareness has not yet translated into action,” Ariel G. Cantos, Philam Life’s new CEO, said.