More Filipinos got obese during pandemic – survey
MANILA, Philippines — Did the COVID-19 pandemic that limited people’s mobility for the sake of their health worsen the rising incidence of obesity?
There were no upsides from the restrictions, apparently, as obesity among children, adolescents and adults rose during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new government survey that measured the country’s food security and nutrition status.
Released on Monday, the 2021 Expanded National Nutrition Survey (ENNS) by the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI) found obesity rates among children age 0 to 5 and 5 to 10 at 3.9 percent and 14 percent, respectively.
The same trend was seen among older people, with one in every 10 adolescents and four out of 10 adults were either overweight or obese.
The survey further said 10 percent of adults aged 20 to 59 were obese.
Among the elderly aged 60 and above, 6.2 percent are obese and 11.8 have chronic energy deficiency.
On another aspect, the survey said one in every four Filipino children under 5 years old is experiencing stunted growth.
The ENNS, which surveyed 141,189 Filipinos between July 2021 and June 2022 in 37 provinces and cities in the country, is an effort to quantify Filipinos’ health and food security conditions at the height of the pandemic. The data can be eventually used to craft policies and programs toward a full recovery from the pandemic.
The survey measured the weight and height of household members, their blood pressure, sugar and lipid profiles, and other health indicators like the vitamin A, iodine, and iron status of selected population groups, dietary intake of all household members, breastfeeding, and smoking and drinking habits.
The survey said high obesity rates caused the Philippines to miss its target of no increase or reduced obesity prevalence under the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition 2017-2022.
It also revealed that three in every 10 households in the Philippines were unable to meet their nutritional requirements as unemployment and inflation made it difficult for poor Filipinos to afford basic commodities.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines obesity or being overweight as the extreme or unusual fat accumulation in the body. This condition is described using body mass index (BMI), defined as a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters (kg/m2).
For adults, a BMI equal to or greater than 25 is considered overweight; obesity is a BMI greater than or equal to 30. For children, a BMI that is one or two standards above the average measurement by the WHO Child Growth Standards is obese.
The WHO said obesity is caused by the imbalance of energy in the body between the calories consumed and the calories burned up, or too much eating and drinking without enough physical activity.
Stunting in children or being shorter than their age is classified as a “high public health significance” under WHO standards, as the survey found that 26.7 percent of Filipino children age 0 to 5 as stunted.
The ENNS data from January 2018 to February 2019 said 37.2 percent of adults were obese. For adolescents, 11.6 percent were obese in 2018, an increase from 9.2 percent in 2015. At least 5.2 children aged 0 to 5 were “overweight for height” in 2018.
The survey also said one in every 10 preschool-aged children is underweight while 5.5 percent of children are wasting or extremely thin.
Most preschoolers were also not getting enough energy and micronutrients they need to grow. More than half of the stunted children came from the poorest and poor households in the country, affecting girls more than boys.
Only one in 10 children between 6 and 23 months met the minimum acceptable diet, indicating “poor quality and quantity of complementary foods,” the survey said.
According to Charina Javier, DOST-FNRI senior science research specialist, this was in part because Filipinos were sedentary during the pandemic, as lockdowns barred people from going out. Indeed, the survey also revealed that four in every 10 Filipino adults were not physically active enough.
The survey also painted a dismal picture of Filipinos’ food security. Among others, it found that more than a third of Filipino households were moderately or severely food insecure, meaning, they are unable to eat as much or meet their nutritional requirements because they have no food.
This trend was more evident in poor, male-led households with more than five members.
To cope, many of these households subsisted by either borrowing food or money from their family members.
Ischemic heart disease was top main cause of death in the Philippines last year, with a reported 125,913 deaths from January to November 2021, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
Cerebrovascular disease was the second main cause of death from January to November 2021 at a total of 68,180 deaths, the PSA also noted.
The WHO said ischemic heart disease, which is also called coronary artery or heart disease, is caused by narrowed arteries that obstruct blood and oxygen from reaching the heart muscle, causing a heart attack.
Cerebrovascular disease is a condition that affects the blood flow in the brain that may cause narrowed blood vessels, clots, blockage, and hemorrhage.