Former Sen. Edgardo J. Angara
Sen. Angara was the longest serving senator in the post-EDSA Senate. Described by the late President Corazon Aquino as “the face of decent Philippine politics abroad,” he is also considered by many as the father of healthcare for authoring the National Health Insurance Act (PhilHealth) and the Senior Citizens Act, among the many landmark laws he has authored.
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Stanford University researchers recently analyzed smartphone data from more than 700,000 individuals across 111 countries to determine their general patterns of activity and exercise. Their research measured in particular the average number of steps people took daily in their respective countries.
According to the results, published in a July 2017 edition of the scientific journal Nature, Hong Kong residents appear to be the world’s most active, walking 6,880 steps or roughly 6 kilometers (km) on average a day. In contrast, Indonesia was the most lethargic, walking only 3,513 steps or 4 km a day, followed by Saudi Arabia (3,807 steps or 4.4 km) and Malaysia (3,963 steps or 4.5km). The Philippines turned out to be the 4th least active in the world with only 4,008 steps or 4.6 km a day.
The study’s authors explained that their methodology had limitations, highlighting that their data—taken from Apple iPhone users of the fitness application Argus—were “potentially biased towards individuals of higher socioeconomic status, particularly in lower-income countries, and towards people interested in their activity and health.” In other words, their findings may not be accurate or representative of the different countries they measured.
If the bias is assumed to be true however, it can be surmised that those from high and middle classes are the ones who account for the Philippines’ high levels of inactivity. To a certain extent, the 8th National Nutrition Survey (NNS), released in 2013, actually points to this. The survey found that across all age groups, most ofthose who were obese or overweight—conditions that are closely related with inactivity and sedentary lifestyles—came from the wealthiest quintile. In fact, there is a clear positive relationship between wealth and obesity or overweight rates.
This suggests that the country’s growing “overnutrition” problem emanates from those who are relatively well-off—a clear cause for concern since these are generally the people with the wherewithal to eat better, exercise more and live healthier lifestyles.
The Stanford University study also found that higher walkability scores in a city are associated with significantly more daily steps across age, gender and body-mass-index (“weight”) groups. In other words, in cities where it is relatively easier to walk around, people tend to walk longer distances and possibly lead more active and healthier lifestyles.
To be clear, the data analyzed to arrive upon this conclusion came from select US cities. But such analysis could very well apply to the Philippines, especially since our major urban centers are not necessarily known to be friendly to pedestrians. Our urban development plans if any, appear to be organized around helping the commuters on cars and motorcycles, not the commuters on foot.
The Stanford University study ought to give some pause to our leaders and push them to assess whether their anti-obesity initiatives are reaching the right people, and whether the huge infrastructure projects planned for the next five years will help make our cities more walkable and pedestrian-friendly.