When Eating Becomes Dangerous

"Increasing social status, urbanization, a more sedentary lifestyle, and globalization of diets contribute to increasing obesity. "

The holidays are upon us again, and with them, the prospect of bingeing. Eating is so pleasurable that it looks curmudgeonly to reprimand people for their alimentary habits. But it is really time for us to examine our eating practices that promote gaining weight and one that is not conducive to weight loss. In other words, it is time to look at our obesogenic environment, the sociocultural rules that govern our eating and physical activity and their socioeconomic context.

The prevalence of obesity and overweight rapidly increased from 1998 to 2013. Adult obesity prevalence more than doubled from 3.3 percent to 6.8 percent. Adult overweight prevalence also nearly doubled from 16.9 percent to 31.1 percent. Adult females with high waist circumference more than doubled from 10.7 percent to 23.1 percent.

During the same period, diabetes prevalence shot up from 3.9 percent to 5.4 percent. Diabetes and cardiovascular diseases have surged as the top causes of mortality and morbidity, without any significant difference across socioeconomic classes.

Increasing social status, urbanization, a more sedentary lifestyle, and globalization of diets contribute to increasing obesity. A longitudinal study in metropolitan Cebu (Kelles and Adair, 2009) show that Cebuano offspring consume more obesogenic diet than their mothers ever did, in response to changing socioeconomic status and urbanization. Obesity could be due to the increasing shift away from home dietary intake, with Cebu youth consuming nearly 40 percent of total calories from such foods. Snacking is also more common in the younger generation. All these are happening in the context of rapid franchising and commercialization of eating.

These indicate the need to regulate food (especially sugar and carbohydrate intake), including heavier sin taxes for sugar-intensive food and drinks. Regulating their sale in school and other vulnerable places is necessary to protect children. It is not far-fetched to consider mandating sugar-content reduction (e.g., of 3-in-1 coffee in sachets, which are too sweet) or prohibition of such marketing ploys as “unli” rice that give customers multiple servings of the staple “for free.”

Ah, but then Filipinos are so defensive of their eating, and there lies the post-prandial rub.

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About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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