Malnutrition—a global public health hazard

Column-Sen Edgardo Angara photo

Former Sen. Edgardo J. Angara

A RECENT study published in the UK journal The Lancet found that over the past 40 years, the number of obese people worldwide has ballooned from 105 million in 1975 to 641 million in 2014.

Considered the biggest research ever on worldwide body mass index (BMI) trends, the study found that in fact overnourishment has become a bigger problem than undernourishment, with up to 13 percent of the global population now obese and over nine percent undernourished.

The Lancet study revealed that men in East and Southeast Asia accounted for the biggest BMI rise in the past decade, owing perhaps to rising standards of living. A recent report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) even found that in the Philippines, incidence of obesity among children below five has jumped 400 percent—from one percent in 1992 to five percent in 2013.

Obesity is a global health hazard truly meriting more drastic action and coordinated effort. In the Philippines, the more acute malnutrition issue is still undernourishment. The same Lancet study for instance found that the country ranked ninth in the world for the number of underweight men (3.6 million) and eighth in terms of women (4.4 million).

More worryingly, according to the UNICEF-WHO-ASEAN report, child malnutrition remains particularly high. Where in 2013 the incidence of stunting stayed at 30 percent, wasting remains high at eight percent. Up to 21 percent of children born registered low birth weights.

Such malnutrition is both caused and exacerbated by widespread chronic poverty, making access to nutritious foods particularly difficult as the Filipino family spends up to one-third of its household income on food.

On April 1, 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution sponsored by 30 member-states, declaring a UN Decade of Action on Nutrition from 2016 to 2025. The resolution called on member-states to collaborate with the FAO, the WHO and the World Food Programme and devote the decade to eradicate hunger and prevent all forms of malnutrition.

Six of the 10 years of this initiative will be under the President we will elect on May 9. This makes our choice of a President who is committed to a healthy Filipino all the more vital.


 Vital Signs Issue 86 Vol. 4, April 1-30 2016