DOH and development partners call for a whole-of-society approach to reduce obesity in the Philippines
MANILA, PHILIPPINES – The Department of Health (DOH), National Nutrition Council (NNC), Philippine Association for the Study of Overweight and Obesity (PASOO), Nutrition Center of the Philippines (NCP), World Health Organization (WHO), and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) raise the alarm on growing obesity in the Philippines on the occasion of World Obesity Day.
Globally, obesity affects 800 million individuals, placing them more at risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers. It has also emerged as a major risk factor for severe disease during the COVID-19 pandemic, making people living with obesity twice as likely to be hospitalized if tested positive for COVID-19.
Obesity, which was once considered a problem primarily in high-income and developed countries, is now a rising health problem in low- and middle- income countries including the Philippines.
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. For the past two decades, overweight and obesity among adults has almost doubled from 20.2% in 1998 to 36.6% in 2019. Similarly, the prevalence rates of overweight and obesity among adolescents have more than doubled from 4.9% in 2003 to 11.6% in 2018.
If no action is taken, overall rates of overweight and obesity will continue to rise. It is projected that more than 30% of Filipino adolescents will be overweight and obese by 2030 (Landscape Analysis on Overweight and Obesity in Children, Philippines).
This year’s World Obesity Day on March 4 – with the theme “Everybody Needs to Act”– is a call for action at the local, national, and global levels to tackle the increasing rates of obesity, reduce the stigma faced by people living with obesity, and improve the systems that contribute to obesity around the world.
In the Philippines, multi-sectoral and multi-level actions are being undertaken as response to this call. The National Policy on Addressing Overweight and Obesity is being developed to provide directions and guidance to all stakeholders to curb obesity using population-based approaches for prevention, regulatory mechanisms to influence the food environment, management of existing cases and research and surveillance. It considers double-duty actions that address both under- and overnutrition.
According to NNC’s Executive Director Asst. Secretary Azucena M. Dayanghirang, “The NNC coordinates the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN) which includes the Overweight and Obesity Prevention and Management Program to promote healthy environments in priority settings including communities, schools, and workplaces. Also, the NNC Governing Board 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 labelling of food products. This tool is intended to influence food manufacturers to produce and reformulate to offer healthier food to consumers.” The NNC will continue coordinating efforts among stakeholders to effectively address the growing concern on obesity through the formulation of the successor PPAN for 2023-2028.
From the private sector, PASOO and the Nutrition Center of the Philippines (NCP) promote research and multi-professional collaboration in the field of prevention and management of overweight and obesity. Local government units are also leading the way in promoting healthy eating and physical activity among individuals and communities. Quezon City passed Executive Order No. 16 S-2021 entitled “Quezon City Healthy Public Food Procurement Policy,” which sets nutrition criteria for food procured and served by the city to increase the availability of healthy food among the local constituents. In similar fashion, Iloilo City implemented an urban health initiative to promote active transport and enhance physical activity in the city. In fact, it is one of the awardees of the Bike Lane Award of the Land Transportation Office.
To strategically address the growing problem of obesity in the Philippines, the DOH, NNC, and national partners recommend the following actions to be taken:
- Implement policies, legislation, and interventions to promote physical activity including active transport and promotion of green, blue, and open spaces in communities and workplaces
- Strengthen and sustain appropriate social and behavior change communication on healthy diet and physical activity
- Implement a package of policies and interventions to promote, protect, and support infant and young child nutrition, especially in the first 1000 days of life to prevent stunting and reduce risk for children to become obese in their later lives
- Develop a strategy with corresponding funds, human resources, and accountability mechanisms, including empowering the health system with dedicated programs on obesity across the life stage
- Improve data, monitoring, and enforcement of laws and introduce new legislation on marketing and labeling of food products
- Provide subsidies to farmers and fisherfolk and increase access to nutritious food
- Use social protection programs such as 4Ps to improve access to healthy food, especially in times of disasters
- Promote healthy school food environments for children
Statement from UNICEF
“Children with unhealthy diets who take little exercise are increasingly prone to depression, underperforming at school and learning, and are at greater risk of debilitating disease like diabetes later in life. COVID-19 poses an additional threat to children with obesity. They are more likely to be hospitalized and have a higher likelihood of severe disease. We must overcome an obesity-promoting environment that entices children with junk food and offers few opportunities for physical activity. Adequate nutrition is a fundamental human right for every child and a pathway to a healthier future,” said Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, UNICEF Representative in the Philippines.
UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.