A National Policy on Addressing Overweight and Obesity is in its final review stage, and is scheduled for approval in April by the governing board of the next National Nutrition Council (NCC).

The multisectoral policy addresses the growing obesity rates in the Philippines by providing guidance for population-based approaches for prevention, mechanisms to influence the food environment, and management of existing cases of obesity.

Around 27 million Filipinos are overweight and obese, based on the latest survey of the Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute.

Whether or not the over 50 genes associated with obesity are activated in individuals depends on their exposure to environmental factors such as nutrition, stress, physical activity.

“Developing countries have the same issues. Are there more options [for healthy living], more investment in infrastructure for making better choices? Not so much,” said Dr. Miroslava Guajardo, senior medical manager of Novo Nordisk Southeast Asia, in a March 4 webinar organized by the same pharmaceutical firm.

“We have so much to do in terms of awareness,” she added.

Southeast Asian countries share an increasing prevalence of obesity, which has been recognized as a chronic disease since 2013. More than 30 million individuals in the region live with obesity.

Aside from setting national policy, NCC also coordinates the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN), the 2023–2028 iteration of which will focus on childhood obesity. (The 2017–2022 PPAN addresses childhood stunting, which has remained high for the last three decades.)

The NCC also recently approved the Philippine Nutrient Profile Model, which will provide guidance in determining food and beverages that can be marketed to children and as the basis for front-of-pack labeling of food products, according to Azucena M. Dayanghirang, NCC executive director assistant secretary.

“This tool is intended to influence food manufacturers to produce and reformulate to offer healthier food to consumers,” she said in a press statement.

Dr. Mia C. Fojas, an endocrinologist with Medical Center Manila, reminded parents to be role models for their children. Children don’t buy their own food, she said at the March 4 webinar.

“A lot of children tell me, ‘Daddy doesn’t eat vegetables. Why should I?’” she said.

Dr. Fojas also noted the need to incorporate physical activity in one’s lifestyle with the acronym SIPA or “short incidental physical activity.” “Move more, use the stairs more,” she said.

Among the local governments that have heeded the call to provide spaces for physical activity include Iloilo City, whose esplanade has promoted walkability among its residents, and Marikina City, which has introduced a bikeway system that also facilitates people-to-people interaction. — Patricia B. Mirasol