The Philippines faces an obesity and overweight prevalence of 5.1 percent and 23.6 percent, based on a report released by the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition—a public-private partnership set up to tackle issues related to obesity, malnutrition and non-communicable diseases.
Commissioned by ARoFIIN and produced by The Economist Intelligence Unit, the report is the first of its kind to carry out a detailed analysis on the economic impact of obesity in Asean.
Entitled “Tackling obesity in Asean: Prevalence, impact, and guidance on interventions, the report calls for more concerted efforts” by health authorities to tackle the problem of obesity to avoid strains on health care systems.
Among the six countries studied in the report, the Philippines has the second lowest obesity and overweight prevalence at 5.1 percent and 23.6 percent respectively. But despite low prevalence rates, obesity has a strong impact in the Philippines due to the large number of obese persons in the country—18-million Filipinos are obese and overweight.
In 2016, obesity also cost the Philippines between US$500 million and US$1 billion, equivalent to between four percent and eight percent of its healthcare spending. This makes the country the fourth-highest spender for obesity-related problems.
Indonesia is the highest spender at US$2 billion to US$4 billion, equivalent to between eight percent and 16 percent of national health care spending; followed by Malaysia at US$1 billion to US$2 billion, equivalent to between 10 percent and 19 percent of national health care spending); and then Singapore at US$400 million to US$1 billion (equivalent to between threepercent and 10 percent of national health care spending).
These costs are due to a spike in incidence of related NCDs such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and stroke, as well as an increased rate of absenteeism from work arising from illness and poor health.
Apart from costs, obesity-related problems have far-reaching implications. Based on the report, obesity reduces life spans by a weighted average of between four and nine years across the six countries.
The Philippines is the worst-affected in terms of reduction of productive years among obese males – a significant eight to 12 years. This is followed by Malaysia at between 6 and 11 years, and Indonesia at between 6 and 10 years. On the contrary, the Philippines is the least-affected in terms of reduction of productive years among obese females – at between 0.3 and 5 years lost.
With an estimated 7 million children who still experience hunger and malnutrition, the Philippines remains very much focused on battling its longstanding problem of malnutrition, while at the same time bearing the burden of increasing rates of obesity.
While the nation recently launched the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN) 2017-2022 with obesity and overweight as one of the pillars, the report states that obesity is still not a high priority despite it being recognized as an issue.
Other key obesity drivers in the Philippines include a lack of exercise and low dietary quality. Many adults are not physically active, and children lack places to play in.
A recent study by the University of the Philippines found that young people in the Philippines are at a greater risk of NCDs, due to the consumption of food that is energy-dense and nutrient-poor, exacerbated by growing urbanisation and increased incomes.
Among the more effective interventions highlighted in the report, low glycaemic, low calorie, low fat and low carbohydrate diets, as well as regular exercise, have shown to be the most promising in reducing obesity at both the individual and population levels.
The Report also suggested that local governments should identify specific problem areas in which they can step in with initiatives to increase the level of physical activity.
Within the industry, global food manufacturers have also been continuously innovating to offer affordable and healthier food products with fortified minerals, as well as lower salt, sugar and fat content. Moving forward, ARoFIIN hopes to extend its reach by working closely with the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Southeast Asia, enabling them to do the same.
“There is no magic formula to solving the growing obesity epidemic in Asia. Governments in the region need to realie that obesity will be the number one healthcare challenge that we could face over the next two to three decades,” said Mr Bruno Kistner, ARoFIIN Secretary, who is responsible for driving the effectiveness of the ARoFIIN public-private partnership.
“Every sector has a role to play. There must be proper undertakings among industry, government and civil society – real progress can only be made by constructive, transparent and accountable engagement with all stakeholders.”
Dr Simon Baptist, EIU’s Global Chief Economist who led the report, noted that data on obesity prevalence in the region is uneven and often absent across the ASEAN region. This constrains policy-making, which can in turn lead to certain untargeted programmes or interventions. “This study is the first time such a detailed analysis on the impact of obesity has been carried out. We hope it will help deepen the understanding of Southeast Asia’s obesity threat,” said Dr Baptist.
The report shows that obesity rates vary widely, depending on ethnic, genetic, regional and economic differences, and underscores the need for carefully tailored obesity prevention strategies, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Dr Baptist added, “This report aims to be a guide for policymakers, health organisations and the industry, as they tackle the rising threat of obesity in the region together. Taking time to identify at-risk communities can enable the development of smarter policies and more targeted interventions, and tackling obesity can help to free up resources in national healthcare systems and channel them to other areas that deserve attention.”