(Editor’s Note: This updates the article “A Worse Form Of Poverty Is About To Beset The Philippines, And Here’s Why We Have To Stop This Now” that first appeared here on May 2, 2018)
From the start of our existence online, we at TessDrive have always advocated for compassion and sustainability in our lifestyles. This has stemmed largely from the fact that the world has seen enough suffering—inflicted or caused by humans upon fellow humans and other sentient beings. This is also why our site has one of its most important sub-sections—Empowered Sustenance, where we feature lifestyles, policies and practices that espouse compassionate and meat-free food choices. It also addresses a rather worrisome trend, involving something that goes to the very heart of our survival—our poor, uninformed decisions relating to our diets and food choices, which is leading us to the poverty of nutrition.
Arguably, this kind of poverty is even worse than the so-called “brain drain” or financial poverty. Nutrition poverty can spell disaster to the survival of our people, because nutrition is the essential first step towards a healthy, intelligent, and civilized society.
It has been a longstanding misconception that in order for one to get complete nutrition, he or she must eat anything—from animal meat to dairy, eggs, vegetables and fruits. But the thing is, the ordinary Filipino diet today is truly imbalanced, and it just shows that the food pyramid that our health department espouses has some glaring loopholes in them.
What the people need right now are truly informed nutritionists who can guide us in a practical, doable way towards a truly healthy eating habit, and a government that will create new policies institutionalizing drastic changes in our public nutrition policies. Will we see that happen in 2022? Only time, and our votes, can tell.
If we continue “chomping” down this path, pretty soon we will never recover from being literally the “sick men and women of Asia,” nutritional mendicants living on lands blessed with so much fertile lands and open seas and nutrient-rich coastlines, yet still beg for meat-and-potatoes Western food fare that are completely off-kilter with what’s locally abundant and nutritionally necessary for our race’s body makeup: Vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains.
Our land mass cannot support the overproduction and consumption of meat and dairy products, and yet we still consume excessive amounts of them, then allocate only a small portion of our diets to vegetables and fruits. Filipino scientist Custer Deocaris has revealed that an average Filipino eats only 40 kg of vegetables and fruits per year, when the healthy amounts should be at least 69 kilos. In China, an average person eats 250 kg of vegetables per year.
The gross imbalance in our diets has contributed to the significant increase in the incidence of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) in the general population, making it the leading killer disease in the country. Our prevailing diet has also been directly linked to obesity, metabolic diseases, cancer and malnutrition.
Worldbank.org published on June 15, 2021, a report on the scale and scope of undernutrition in the Philippines, and it was quite damning (https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/philippines/publication/-key-findings-undernutrition-in-the-philippines).
The key findings of that report include:
- For nearly 30 years, there have been almost no improvements in the prevalence of undernutrition in the Philippines;
- In 2019, one in three children (29%) younger than five years old suffered from stunting, being small in size for their age;
- Micronutrient undernutrition is also highly prevalent in the Philippines: 38% among infants six to 11 months old; 26% among children 12–23 months; and 20% of pregnant women are anemic. Nearly 17% of children aged 6–59 months suffered from vitamin A deficiency (2018), of which children aged 12–24 months had the highest prevalence (22%) followed by children aged six to 12 months (18%);
- The burden on the Philippine economy brought by childhood undernutrition was estimated at $4.4 billion, or 1.5% of the country’s GDP, in 2015;
- The impact of Covid-19 on hunger and undernutrition has made it even more urgent for the government to scale up its efforts to tackle undernutrition. Hunger rose sharply following the start of the pandemic. Social Weather Stations (SWS) surveys show that in September 2020, after seven months of community quarantine, 31% of families reported experiencing hunger in the past 30 days, and 9% were suffering severe hunger—in both cases, the highest levels recorded in more than 20 years.
This is the unfortunate effect of the rising poverty in nutrition, aggravated by a pandemic that has been raging for nearly two years: We suffer and die unnecessarily from lifestyle diseases. Of the top 10 causes of mortality in the Philippines, five of them are lifestyle-related. We may be increasing in numbers (because population control is, at best, shaky in these parts), but we contract dreaded diseases earlier in our lives. We may be living longer, but that’s because of the leaps and bounds made by medicine and health technologies. In short, we’re on medical life support (via pills, machines, and tubes) earlier.
The thing is, we are nutritionally broken. We have been ever since our society became a predominantly meat-eating, fast-food craving nation.
Professor T. Colin Campbell, author of the groundbreaking research book “The China Study”, once said, “If Filipinos decided to eat plant-based diets and seriously rejected fast-food, they would gain much stature, more health, and be much richer and independent in the future.”
Of course, radically changing our dietary habits, as individuals and as a society, is easier said than done. This will require all the help we need, especially from a government that needs to put its taxpayer money where its mouth is.