MANILA, Philippines–Worried over the growing number of Filipinos with bigger waists, health officials are introducing a new tack that would help consumers count calories and make healthier food choices.
For starters, the Food and Drug Administration has already issued a circular for food manufacturers–including fast food chains—encouraging them to place proper labeling of energy or calorie content on their products.
According to the circular, the label must be at the lower right hand portion of the food product, stating how many calories are in a serving and its percentage based on the recommended energy and nutrient intakes (RENI) or internationally approved minimum daily requirements.
Dr. Anthony Leachon, the Department of Health consultant on non-communicable diseases, noted that the recommended calorie intake for women is 1,500 and 2,000 for men daily. It is advisable that Filipinos should aim for 500 calories a meal only, he said.
To achieve this, one must divide his or her plate into four and each portion must consist of the following: a serving of fruit equal to 50 calories; vegetables (50 calories); one cup of rice (200 calories) and protein (200 calories).
For proteins, fish or chicken (100 calories each) are recommended. “If eating pork or beef, take only small portions,” said Leachon.
In the circular, FDA director Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go stated that the FDA shall allow the use of “fact-based” labeling to provide a simple and immediate way for Filipino consumers to make healthier food choices.
“Front-of-pack labeling aims to improve renewed interest and heighten awareness of consumers on energy content of the products,” stated Go.
The circular also urged food industries to carry out campaigns through posters and other advertising materials to boost consumer awareness on the “front-of-pack” food labeling.
“All interested food manufacturers/distributors are required to submit the revised labels of their processed food products reflecting the front-of-pack labeling for nutrient-energy with the corresponding % RENI to FDA for approval,” it noted.
While the FDA circular was not mandatory, Leachon said the DOH will pursue legislation in the next Congress.
He stressed that food labeling in products sold in the market and even in fast food restaurants must be made mandatory due to the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and hypertension among Filipinos brought about by unhealthy diet, among other factors.
He cited 2011 records from the National Statistics Coordination Board and the Food and Nutrition Research Institute showing that 27 percent of Filipino adults are overweight in 2008, a marked increase from the 17 percent in 1993.
At least seven percent of Filipino children aged 5 to 10 years old were also found to be overweight in the same year compared to the 5.8 percent culled in 2003. Filipinos afflicted with diabetes have reached 10 million now while those with hypertension due to high salt obesity have been pegged at 25 million.