Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Batuhan: What’s eating the Philippines?

Foreign Exchange

ONE morning last week, I happened to stumble into the kitchen, while our family driver was having his breakfast.

Out of the corner of my eye, I happened to glance at what he was having for his morning fare. What caught my attention were the blood-red hotdogs on his plate, nestled on top of a big mound of white rice. He was happily munching away, no doubt pleased with himself—I’m quite sure—to be eating such a bountiful breakfast.

Rewind the scene 30 or so years back, and I could imagine myself consuming the same type of food for breakfast. Not hotdogs, perhaps, since I never liked them much, but some other type of processed breakfast food. Maybe some ham or bacon, possibly tocino or tapa. And what would have always been present was the white garlic fried rice. Oh how we could not have a meal without rice, being Filipinos and all that.

Today, what do I eat most mornings in place of the ubiquitous something (insert tapa, bacon, ham or whatever suits your fancy)-silog? Nothing, really. Seriously? Nothing, you ask? As in really zero? Well. Yes. Nothing. As in really zero. And in fact, so is lunch these days too. None of that as well. And only at dinner do I stop to take a bite. One meal a day is as much as I allow myself these days.

The nutrition advice—or at least we thought it was advice—that we were being given all those years ago turns out to not have been a very good one. Back then, breakfast was supposed to be the most important meal of the day. You could have rice every meal, so long as you kept your intake of fat to a minimum. Sweet fruit juices were okay too. After all, they were natural, correct? Doesn’t juice come from fruit, which are products of nature? So they must be good for us then, right?

I was of the generation raised during the explosion of fast-food chains like McDonald’s and KFC. I used to think that having a “power breakfast” was the best way to start my day. But what is the state of that same generation today? And what of the generations behind ours as well? How are we faring, after all of the SAD (Standard American Diet, which is the label given to fast-food fare we were consuming) eating we were doing all those years?

Here is the sobering reality.

“The Philippines is not exempt from such worrying trends. In fact, according to a 2016 joint study by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef), the World Health Organization (WHO) and Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), obesity among children below five years old jumped 400 percent, from one percent prevalence in 1992 to five percent in 2013. The WHO estimated that in 2014, more than one out of five Filipinos above 18 years old (23.6 percent) were overweight.

Obesity represents a huge burden to the country, not just through higher healthcare costs but also through lost productivity. For instance, the EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit) study found that the Philippines devotes nearly eight percent of its healthcare spending just for obesity-related costs. And where obese females in the Philippines lose up to five years of productivity, that number balloons to 12 years among Filipino obese males—representing the highest productivity loss among the Asean. Together, these factors cost the Philippine economy up to US$1 billion a year.” (“Obesity in the Philippines,” Health & Lifestyle, 29 June 2017)

Continued next week...


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