By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman

A TOP diabetes doctor said the Philippines is losing the war against diabetes and its complications.

Dr. Augusto D. Litonjua, president of the Philippine Center for Diabetes Education Foundation, Inc., that there are two major causes why this is: the increasing number of fast food joints and call centers.


He said call center work results in a wayward body rhythm that causes stress and internal confusion. The normal body clock has people awake in the day and asleep at night, but call center agents do the reverse since they have to process calls at night from the US and Europe where it is daytime. This reversal of the normal body clock stresses their bodies. “Stress precipitates diabetes,” said Dr. Litonjua. In addition, the lack of sleep causes people to overeat and choose the more convenient options: fast food.

“Fast foods are high in fat and are calorie-dense… Can we eliminate the fast food joints in the Philippines? No,” he said.

Dr. Litonjua was speaking at a press conference during Sweet Escape: Hataw Galaw on Aug. 12 at Quezon City’s Fisher Mall. The event, which promotes public awareness of diabetes, also featured the Sweet Escape: Hataw Galaw Intercollegiate Urban Dance Competition, a Zumba party, diabetes lay forums, exhibition booths, and games for people living with diabetes, families, advocacy and support groups, magazine readers and diabetes specialists.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says diabetes is the fourth leading non-communicable disease in the world. Cardiovascular diseases top the list followed by cancer and respiratory diseases.

“We’re more afraid of dengue, HIV, Zika virus, and AIDS,” said Dr. Litonjua, “when many [more] people die of diabetes.”

According to the WHO data, 415 million people have diabetes worldwide. One third, or 150 million people, live in the West Pacific Region (WPR) which includes the Philippines and 20 other nations.

Over six million Filipinos have diabetes in the total population of more than 100 million, a disease prevalence of 6.1%. Projections say that by 2040, the numbers will swell by 215 million victims in the WPR area alone, and 12 million of these will live in the Philippines.

Worldwide, one person dies of diabetes every six seconds said Dr. Litonjua. He attributes the increasing number of diabetes victims to three “Ka”: katabaan (obesity), katakawan (gluttony); and katamaran (indolence).

Dr. Joy C. Fontanilla, editor in chief of DiabetEASE magazine and the head of the diabetes center of Asian Hospital and Medical Center, said those with a family history of diabetes, those who are overweight, the sedentary, smokers, and those who have hypertension are at greater risk. She suggests losing 5% to 7% of one’s body weight by doing at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. Moderate, she says, is when you can still have a conversation but are too exhausted to sing a song.

Dr. Litonjua suggests that everyone — especially those who already have the disease and those on the borderline — exercise in cold places. When we exercise in a hot room, he said we only lose water, and gets the liquid back when we drink. But when we exercise in the cold, he said body fat burns easier.

And eat food rich in fiber and not in refined or white sugar.