DOH, int’l groups call for action against childhood obesity

The Department of Health (DOH) and several international organizations have urged stakeholders to help regulate the marketing unhealthy foods for children, following a rise in the number of overweight and obese children in the country.

In a joint statement, the DOH, National Nutritional Council (NNC), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Children’s Fund (UNICEF) urged stakeholders for the firm enforcement of existing laws and to introduce front of pack labeling of commercial foods.

Based on the Expanded National Nutrition Survey by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) in 2019, there was a relatively low prevalence of overweight at 2.9% among Filipino children under five years old; and a medium prevalence of 9.1%  and 9.8%, respectively, among children aged 5-10 years and 10-19 years old.

“Among Filipino adolescents, overweight has tripled in the last 15 years. There is a higher rate of overweight and obese children in urban areas than in rural areas and a higher prevalence of several risk factors and environmental conditions could rapidly increase the rates,” the statement read.

“We also call on the public to change the way overweight and obesity is viewed by society and be advocates of change for healthy food environments and policies that prioritize obesity as a serious health issue,” it added.

WHO said overweight and obese children are more likely to stay obese into adulthood, and to develop diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease at a younger age.

“Factors contributing to the increasing problem of overweight and obesity include poor diets, inadequate nutrition, and failing food systems. In addition, limited physical activity also largely contribute to the growing problem of overweight and obesity,” the organization said.

DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III, for his part, said that while overweight and obesity “pales in comparison” with under-nutrition, the emerging problem should be mitigated to prevent the future risk of non-communicable diseases, premature deaths, and disability in adulthood.

“Further, the economic costs of this escalating problem are considerable both in terms of the enormous financial strains it will place on the health care system and lost economic productivity,” Duque stressed.

In recent years, Congress had enacted several legislations to support healthier diets and nutrition while the Department of Education has also issued policies on the sale of healthy foods and beverages in schools and the promotion of physical activity.

Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, UNICEF representative in the Philippines, said that while there have been positive developments for better nutrition in the country, there was still a need for “clear and prompt” action to address the burden of malnutrition and to recognize childhood overweight and obesity as a “central health issue.”