Poor diets, failing food systems, and lack of physical activity are causing overweight and obesity in children

Joint media release

04 March 2021

MANILA, 4 March 2021 – With the Philippines suffering from a triple burden of malnutrition together with other forms of undernutrition (including stunting and wasting), micronutrient deficiencies, along with overweight and obesity, the Department of Health (DOH), National Nutrition Council (NNC), FAO, WHO, and UNICEF jointly call upon the public, civil society organizations, academe, and the private sector to take action to prevent and manage childhood overweight and obesity.

According to WHO, overweight and obese children are more likely to stay obese into adulthood and to develop noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age. Obese children and adolescents may also suffer from both short-term and long-term health consequences. Factors contributing to the increasing problem of overweight and obesity include poor diets, inadequate nutrition, and failing food systems. In addition, limited physical activity is likewise contributing to the growing problem on overweight and obesity. Prevention remains to be the most feasible option for curbing the childhood obesity epidemic.

Results from the Expanded National Nutrition Survey conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) in 2019 reported a relatively low prevalence of overweight at 2.9% among children under 5 years old; medium prevalence of 9.1% and 9.8% among children aged 5 to 10 years old and 10 to 19 years old, respectively.  Among Filipino adolescents, overweight has tripled in the last 15 years. There is a higher rate of overweight and obese children in urban areas than in rural areas and higher prevalence of several risk factors and environmental conditions could rapidly increase the rates. These findings from the FNRI study, together with new studies and recommendations for action, will be shared during a dissemination forum on March 4, 2021. 

“The Department of Health recognizes the emerging problem of childhood overweight and obesity in the country and although its prevalence pales in comparison with that of undernutrition, it will be unfortunate to prejudice the public health attention it deserves to mitigate its future risk on non-communicable diseases, premature death and disability in adulthood. Further, the economic costs of this escalating problem are considerable both in terms of the enormous financial strains it will place on the health care system and lost economic productivity,” Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said.

“To prevent obesity, we need to start early, that is in the First 1000 Days of life when we could also prevent undernutrition, which could also result in obesity in later life” according to Dr. Azucena Dayanghirang, Executive Director of the NNC. The NNC is leading the multi-sectoral Overweight and Obesity Management and Prevention Program of the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN) 2017-2022.  The PPAN targets no further increase in child obesity by 2022 by fostering a healthy food environment and promoting positive nutrition behaviors towards consumption of healthier diets.

“From a public health, economic and moral perspective, it is imperative for Government and the whole of Society to act on this issue of childhood overweight and obesity. Curbing the childhood obesity epidemic requires political commitment at all levels, and the collaboration of many public and private stakeholders. A multisectoral approach is essential, and should provide supportive environments that encourage physical activity, restrict access to unhealthy foods and drinks, support mothers to practice exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months and to protect children from marketing influences. It is also important to ensure that policies and laws are fully implemented and protected from undue commercial interests,” said Dr Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative in the Philippines.

Overweight and obesity are complex and multifaceted problems that would require multisectoral and comprehensive strategies to effectively and sustainably prevent and manage. Sustainable, responsive, resilient and functional food systems can enable better and healthier diets, but while the food systems encompass a range of public and private actors, the role of government is crucial in developing and implementing programmes and policies that address the production, distribution, accessibility, and utilization of food in the country.

“Maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet is especially important at this time of a pandemic. To promote and achieve healthy and nutritious diets, sustainable, functional and responsive food systems – borne out of collaborative and multi-sectoral action – are paramount,” emphasized Ms Kati Tanninen, FAO Representative to the Philippines.

“To this end, FAO is supporting the national government through the implementation of the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition 2017-2022, which calls on policies and programmes to be ‘nutrition-sensitive’. Policy measures related to food systems that support healthy diets should be enforced. These policies and legislations should also be in line with – and guide the country’s actions towards – its pledges to global commitments such as the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition 2016-2025 and the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly to SDG 2 on attaining Zero Hunger and improved nutrition for all. But more importantly, such legislations should be responsive to the country’s unique health and nutrition context, objectives, and priorities,” she added.

In recent years, several legislations have been enacted by the Philippine Congress to support healthier diets and nutrition of Filipinos. The Department of Education has also issued policies on sale of healthy foods and beverages in schools, as well as the promotion of physical activity.

“While there have been positive developments to enable an environment for better nutrition in the Philippines, there should also be a clear and prompt action to address the triple burden of malnutrition and to recognize childhood overweight and obesity as a central health issue. Aside from actively working with the Philippine Government and other partners to strengthen nutrition policies and plans, UNICEF also collaborates on generating evidence to better address overweight and obesity and ensure access to healthy food for children. We remain committed to support health and nutrition initiatives for every child, especially the most vulnerable,” said Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, UNICEF Representative in the Philippines.

The DOH, NNC, FAO, WHO, and UNICEF jointly call on the firm and continuous enforcement of the existing legislations, and to introduce front of pack labelling of commercially produced foods, and to regulate harmful practices such as the marketing of unhealthy foods to children. We also call on public to change the way overweight and obesity is viewed by society and become advocates for change for healthy food environments and policies that prioritize obesity as a serious health issue.

Media contacts

Carlos Joshua Lazaro
External Communication Team Lead, Communications Management Unit
Department of Health
Tel: +63 905 763 1184
Jovita B. Raval
Nutrition Officer V and Chief of Nutrition Information and Education Division
National Nutrition Council
Tel: +63 908 820 0495


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For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in the Philippines, visit www.unicef.ph.

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