Batuhan: The Fat of the Land

Batuhan: The Fat of the Land

We have always associated a developing country like the Philippines with deprivation and poverty. For example, in response to the prevalence of Filipino children being underweight, the country’s health secretary had this to say on the matter:

“Vergeire said 12.3 percent of children aged zero to 23 months are underweight, while 7.2 percent of them are wasted. Children aged 0-4 years totaled over 11 million as of the 2020 census, accounting for 10.2 percent of the population, based on Philippine Statistics Authority data. March 21, 2023.” (EU Knowledge for Policy, May 19, 2023)

However, things seem to be changing quite quickly with the Filipinos’ problem with weight. Take a look at the findings from a recent study on obesity, for example:

“Around 27 million Filipinos are considered overweight or obese,” according to a leading global health care company.

“Obesity is particularly prevalent in the Philippines, where 36.6 percent of individuals aged 20 years or older meet the World Health Organization (WHO) body mass index or BMI cutoff points for being overweight or obese,” Novo Nordisk said in a statement, citing a recent survey conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute.” (, March 7, 2023)

What does this mean for our health paradigm regarding nutrition in the Philippines? Well, simply that more Filipinos are now bigger than they should be compared to those who are smaller than they ought to be. While only 2.1 million Filipinos are now in a problematic state when it comes to being underfed, a whopping 14 million of us have, it seems, been consuming more than our share of the nation’s caloric pie.

This comes with it a whole new set of heavyweight problems (pun intended) regarding our health policies as country. And it also raises fundamental questions about what has happened to swing the pendulum so drastically when it seems none of those responsible were looking.

But we should not have been surprised, as developments elsewhere should have fixed our focus on what was to come in this land once known for people with slim waistlines and muscular and lean physiques. When two out of three adults in the country (who else but the good old US of A) that we copy for everything from fashion to food are either overweight or obese, it would only be a matter of time before our country caught up with our universal role model in terms of the size of our waistlines. Quoting the problem as the Americans would state it, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Philippines was not too far behind in the fat stakes when compared to their American idols.

Let’s see, why would that have happened?

Just take a stroll around our one of our many supermarket aisles and ubiquitous malls one day, and see how much of the food we eat on a daily basis are now available in their mass produced and ultra processed varieties. Breakfast cereals with skimmed milk for breakfast, fast food burgers for lunch, and quick Chinese meals for dinner. And oh, don’t forget the merienda of ensaymada and sweet hot chocolate, and the tasty treat of milk tea with boba pearls to round out a typical day’s food intake for many Filipinos.

This wasn’t always how it used to be. When I was in high school, I could not remember a single classmate who was clearly overweight or obese. Sure, a few were bigger than others, but no one looked like they had outgrown their uniforms too quickly. Today, go to any high school classroom and probably close or half of all the students would have some problem with their weight, especially in the cities and urban areas. The adult population, too, is not that far behind. And it is not confined to those more privileged either. From senators and executives to bus drivers and Grab riders, this country’s collective waistline has expanded a few inches too many, with many devastating short-term, medium-term and long-term consequences for the Filipinos’ health and well-being.

(More next week)


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