THE PHILIPPINES is unlikely to meet United Nations adult obesity targets for 2025 and was given a national obesity risk score of 6/10 (moderate risk) by the World Obesity Federation (WOF).

The rate of increase in adult obesity in the Philippines exhibited “very rapid growth” between 1995 and 2015: 5.4% in men and 3.7% in women, according to a report released by WOF this March.

Globally, obesity prevalence is predicted to reach 18% in men and surpass 21% in women by 2025.

Obesity is weighing more than what is considered healthy for a given height. A common misconception is that obesity is the opposite of malnutrition, or the lack of proper nutrition. Obesity is intertwined with malnutrition, as it can stem from a diet that is calorically excessive but not nutritionally adequate. Obesity can moreover cause the decrease of key nutrients in the body, as the physical impact of excess fat can make the absorption of vitamin D, chromium, biotin, and thiamine difficult.

The prolonged duration of one’s obesity increases the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, and certain cancers, thus needing more extensive and costly interventions. According to the WOF report, Philippine healthcare costs attributed to obesity reached $555.8 million in 2016. 

Healthy eating has to start in childhood, as overweight and obese children are more likely to stay obese into adulthood and develop NCDs at a younger age, according to the WHO. Findings from the Expanded National Nutrition Survey conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute in 2019 reported that the number of overweight Filipino adolescents tripled in the last 15 years.

A balanced diet is a crucial factor for achieving a healthy weight. Unfortunately, adequate diets are often unaffordable for poor city dwellers in the Philippines, said the World Food Programme (WFP) in a report released by the World Bank this March. According to the WFP, almost all households would have been able to afford a calorically adequate diet in 2015, but that one-third would not have been able to afford a nutritionally adequate diet — not even the one available at least cost.

A balanced diet — that is, a nutritionally adequate one — contains food from the following groups: fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, and protein. The basic principles are constant, said the WHO, although the exact make-up of each individual diet varies depending on one’s age, lifestyle, cultural context, and locally available food.

Filipinos mostly diet on carbohydrates like rice, bread, pancit (rice flour noodles), kakanin (native delicacies), potato snacks such as french fries, and chips, said Dr. Patrick Y. Siy, an internist and endocrinologist at Cardinal Santos Medical Center.

“Carbohydrates like rice or sugar-sweetened beverages are the preference because of their taste, hence the excess intake,” said Dr. Siy in an e-mail interview with BusinessWorld. “Doctors would always recommend a balanced diet. Based on the food pyramid, vegetables and whole grains should be consumed more than proteins and fats.”

At a previous webinar, he shared that a healthy meal serving consists of filling a fourth of a standard-sized, nine-inch plate with lean protein such as fish or chicken, a fourth with complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, and the rest with fruits and leafy vegetables. An increase in physical activity can also help individuals achieve a healthy weight, Dr. Siy said. — Patricia B. Mirasol