Archive for July 30, 2008

MANILA’S HUNGER PANGS

July 30, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

In a previous article about obesity, I already touched on the hunger issue. It is particularly interesting to study nutrition issues in Manila today, nutrition patterns render the Philippines among the ‘transitional populations’ that characterize emerging markets.

Needless to say, in a transitional population as defined in demographic theory, both problems of hunger and overweight co-exist, with obesity rising at faster paces than hunger. Depending on current circumstance, hunger could fluctuate from low to high. The difference between the two problems is that while hunger fluctuates or varies in occurrence, obesity steadily rises.

When I did an intensive study on fair trade & food security in 2005 for a national center entrusted with addressing fair trade & food matters, I did stumble upon the reports of the Social Weather Stations or SWS about hunger. I also got updated about under-nutrition problems reported by experts of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute or FNRI, which indicated very serious nutrition gaps among children and women, and those for fisherfolks too.

What surprises me till now is that food producers themselves, fisherfolks most especially, suffer from under-nutrition problems. Food producers are abundant with food resources, and so expectedly they should show the least signs of under-nutrition. But this isn’t the case, and in a very informative manner, our nutrition experts led by Dr. Cecilio Florencio have used satisfactory factor analysis to unlock the causes and correlates of the problem.

From the late 1990s till 2004, the hunger incidence fluctuated from 8% to 12%, going up and down as data indicated. However, from 2005 through mid-2008, the pattern shifted to the 12% to 16% range, which surely makes the problem alarming.

As early as 2005, I already raised the alarm bell for hunger, recommended policy measures and the launching of a Hunger Fund as executor of the hunger mission. Unfortunately, state officials were not in the mood to listen to such problems then, and it seems that the FNRI’s own alarm bells to the Office of the President and to the Legislative fell on deft ears. Only when economist Dr. Mahar Mangahas and the SWS experts began raising the alarm bells over media did government respond.

To my own dismay, government response has been re-active. Nary can one find a new, fresh solution to the problem. It’s the same old fogey ‘give-the-poor-porridge’ solution, the same solution that one offers to folks during wars and calamities when people have to line up for scarce food preparations. Porridge & food stumps remain, till these days, as the intervention tool of state.

How to solve hunger in the long run, which our very own nutrition experts are adept at but which continue to fall on deft ears among top state officials and our own people who refuse to change lifestyles, isn’t anywhere in the Presidents’ nor Congress’ list of strategic solutions to the problem.

Let our state officials be reminded of the last years of the monarchy in Old France. When asked for a solution to hunger, Marie Antonette replied “offer the poor cake.” Whether the cake or porridge solution leads to food security is no longer an issue in fact. One need not be reminded that the French monarchy then, too immersed in its own vanity as to be so out of touch with reality, was decapitated.

[Writ 28 July 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]   

MANILA’S EMERGING OBESITY: IGNORE OR ADDRESS IT?

July 30, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

Nutrition-related issues and problems in the Philippines constitute a long list. Among all the related issues and problems, hunger stands out as the most highlighted today. While there is no question about highlighting hunger and addressing it with determination, over-focusing on this single issue tends to mask the other issues involved.

Among the emerging issues and problems in nutrition, I would handily pinpoint obesity as the most focal. Needless to say, it challenges development stakeholders to highlight the issue as well, and address it on the same level as hunger is being addressed today. Addressing it would mean resorting to public policy tools, strategies and programs at a national level, and creating necessary institutional frames to accelerate the problem’s solution.

While doing the study on fair trade & food security for the KAISAMPALAD in 2005 (this NGO is a national center for fair trade & food security), I stumbled upon both problems of hunger and obesity. At that time, the latest data from the Social Weather Stations regarding hunger indicated a 12% incidence, a figure that I found alarming as anything past the 8.5% index is considered significant. So I included the hunger issue among those food insecurity ailments that must be salved pronto, recommended policy measures, and even recommended the formation of a Hunger Fund as the multi-stakeholder executor of the anti-hunger mission.

The same study made me stumble upon the findings of nutritionists of the state’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute, which indicated a 25% obesity at the turn of the millennium. That average had its expressed distribution among age groups, with varying indices per age bracket. What was alarming at that time was the 25% Phliippine obesity rate was already 5% above the global average of 20% (the USA’s was 66%).

While I was aghast at the obesity incidence, admittedly I wasn’t prepared to tackle it then, and so I remained silent about the matter in the final research report, save for citing indices of over-weight across age brackets. Today the obesity incidence had risen well above the previous 25%, and certain popular media estimates indicate well pass the 30% mark already (we still need some more update nutrition research on the subject).

Obesity is markedly higher than hunger in the Philippines, surpassing the latter by over double the incidence. The problem with hunger studies is that the methodology is often subjective, since they employ surveys (e.g. asking the informant if s/he has been eating sufficiently or not. In contrast, obesity measures are objective and very exact, as calibration entails the use of weighing scales administered by licensed nutritionists.

I admit that I still am relatively unprepared to tackle the issue as of this day, that is as a development issue. I can only think now of the typical lifestyle intervention to address it, such as combining physical regimen with diet program and a total lifestyle change. Being athletic and a health buff (I was formerly Silver Medalist in national powerlifting –middleweight division), I often offer myself as a prototype of an optimally balanced physical-nutritional wellness person, even as I can easily lecture on lifestyle change and personal intervention to address obesity.

I would end this piece by tossing the query to my fellow Filipinos in the country and to friends overseas: will Manila continue to ignore obesity altogether?

[Writ 28 July 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]