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Overweight but malnourished

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Citing a February 29 study in the medical journal The Lancet, the World Health Organization said 43 percent of the world’s adult population, or 2.5 billion people, are now overweight, while 2022 figures showed that 20 percent or over 390 million children and adolescents also struggle with that condition.

Overall, obesity among adults worldwide has more than doubled since 1990 and quadrupled among children and adolescents, said the study, which has input from the WHO and is based on data from 1990 to 2022 in more than 200 countries.

Unfortunately for Filipinos, figures in the Philippines are even more alarming. The prevalence of overweight and obese adults cumulative rose by 166 percent, from 13 percent in 1990 to 34.6 percent in 2022. This is higher among children and adolescents, which rose from 3.2 percent in 1990 to 14.6 percent in 2022, or up by 356 percent in prevalence.

WHO director general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said efforts to curb obesity must be sustained by “governments and communities” and also require “the cooperation of the private sector, which must be accountable for the health impacts of their products.”

The Healthy Philippines Alliance (HPA), a network of civil society organizations, has emphasized that obesity, which is brought about by poor dietary habits and lack of physical activity, may lead to illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and chronic kidney disease.

According to nutritionist-dietician Jennina Duatin, who serves in the board of trustees of Diabetes Philippines, an HPA member, “moderation, variety, and balance in food choices are key factors in preventing overweight and obesity.”

Compounding the problem is easy access to unhealthy food, especially among children, who are frequently exposed to ultra-processed products that are cheaper and easier to prepare and typically contain excessive amounts of sugar, sodium, and fats.

The HPA called on government to increase access to affordable healthy food options and enact policies aimed at combating poor dietary habits among Filipinos.

Despite the implementation of sin taxes on sugary foods, obesity continues to be a problem for Filipinos, mainly because access to healthy and affordable options are mostly unavailable and/or inconvenient. While increasing taxes further may discourage that unhealthy trend, it is also the duty of government to make the healthy choice an easier one. That means ensuring that fresh produce remains affordable and available, along with educating more Filipinos on how to make it attractive and palatable to an entire generation that has acquired unhealthy eating habits that now need to be addressed.*

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