As the world finds itself preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors have come to address and shed light on an equally critical pandemic that has been affecting the world, including roughly 18M Filipinos – that is Obesity.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the worldwide prevalence of obesity nearly tripled between 1975 and 2016. Statistics from 2020 showed that 39% of adults, are considered obese – almost two out of every 5 persons.
President of the Philippine Association for the Study of Overweight and Obesity (PASOO) and obesity expert, Dr. Mia C. Fojas mentioned that in the Philippines, as far back as 1999, obesity was already one of the country’s most serious health concerns.
It was relevant then and even more so today
“It has taken years to recognize obesity as a disease with almost 40% of the population of Metro Manila at this point being either overweight or obese,” revealed Dr. Fojas.
“There are so many complications attributed to obesity, including metabolic, mechanical and even mental diseases, hypertension, diabetes, thrombosis, dyslipidemia, and many others,” Dr. Fojas added. The PASOO president stressed the relevance of obesity awareness in light of Covid-19, “Obesity is known to impair normal bodily function and to confer harm or morbidity especially now in this pandemic. Obesity is one of the comorbidities that can worsen a patient’s condition.”
Obesity Prevention Awareness Week Webinar, a call to knowledge and action
As obesity is truly a health concern, Proclamation No. 162 known as the Obesity Prevention Awareness Week was signed on August 21, 1999 by then President Joseph Estrada. This is observed every first week of September with PASOO as the mandated lead agency.
In line with its commitment to drive change in diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases in the country, Novo Nordisk Philippines, conducted a media forum with a multi-disciplinary group of key opinion leaders in the field of medicine and health & wellness in observance of Obesity Prevention Awareness Week.
As part of Novo Nordisk Philippines’ the Body of Truth obesity advocacy campaign, the program was designed to shed light on the truth and dangers of obesity as a disease as well as the ways by which Filipinos can come together to stem this silent pandemic even beyond lifestyle changes and exercise.
Experts on this program include the President of the Philippine Association for the Study of Overweight and Obesity (PASOO) Dra. Mia C. Fojas, radio personality, talk show host and multi-awarded physician Dr. Bles Salvador, life and fitness coaching couple, founders of FITFIL challenge, and former coaches of The Biggest Loser Philippines Jim and Toni Saret, and was moderated by the Senior Medical Manager of Novo Nordisk Philippines, Dr. Cyrus Q. Pasamba.
Obesity is a disease
One of the key learnings discussed was the hard truth that obesity is a disease. Dr. Fojas mentioned that obesity is known to impair bodily functions, causes characteristic signs and symptoms, and confers harm or morbidity. It affects 30% of Filipinos nationwide and afflicts 40% of Filipinos in Metro Manila.
Probed further on the matter of how obesity is diagnosed, the PASOO president said, “It is not just the weight, it is also the waist circumference that correlates well with mortality and morbidity, like hypertension and other illnesses associated with the disease.”
Beyond the body mass index (BMI) of 29 from the World Health Organization and International Obesity Taskforce for Asians, it really is the waist circumference threshold of 90 cm for males and 80 cm for females that are the key determinants for obesity diagnosis, even beyond the weight and the height of an individual.
Dr. Bles Salvador furthered the discussion when she cited many patients’ concerns and ailments that trace their roots to obesity, and stressed that if left untreated, is indeed life threatening.
“We even have 13 types of cancer identified that are all associated with obesity, and even under the findings of the Center for Disease Control that at the start of the pandemic 78% of those diagnosed with COVID were found to be obese.” according to Dr. Salvador.
The bottom line is that having obesity increases one’s inflammatory markers, lowering immunity and resistance to diseases and comorbidities including insulin resistance, hypertension, diabetes, metabolic, and mechanical issues.
Women and obesity
One of the questions raised was if women, more than men, are prone to having obesity.
For Dr. Fojas, “Physiologically, women are engineered to store more fat, having less muscle mass and more abdominal fat to protect internal organs.”
Dr. Salvador, an OB-GYN, spoke of her experiences where patients approached her for common diagnostic procedures because of recurring infections or a variety of ailments like diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, gynecological cancers, as well as infertility only to find out that most were rooted in weight issues and obesity.
“Women have fat-friendly hormones like estrogen and progesterone which really respond to adipocytes and fat cells,” added Dr. Salvador.
One of the more troubling observations of Dr. Salvador was the impact of obesity on family life wherein sufferers cannot join activities of their children, are subject to inadvertent hurtful words, and other stresses. In the course of her practice, she has created a formula wherein she would advise patients to lose ten pounds, adjust their lifestyle, and if needed, take proper medication to see and sustain marked holistic improvement.
Movement is key
Dr. Cyrus Pasamba of Novo Nordisk Philippines mentioned that due to the various lockdown permutations for the past 17 months, more and more people are suffering silently from obesity or “quarantine fat” as they have limited opportunities to move, to go to the gym, and often rely on high-calorie fast food deliveries.
Coach Jim and Toni Saret stressed the importance of movement, how we in this pandemic must strive to consciously find ways to be physically active to prevent and control obesity, and to increase our immunity to fight Covid-19.
Coach Jim Saret explained that our bodies can only take in enough calories per day and anything we do not burn will be stored as fat, so over time fat accumulates, and we gain weight.
“Lifestyle is a big factor, and, in this pandemic, we need to be more conscious about moving because we are consuming a lot of calories but move less as we continue to stay home more.”
Coach Toni added, in this pandemic “Our metabolic and fitness age has surpassed our biological age because of our sedentary locked-at-home lifestyle. Movement and exercise defy this metabolic aging process.”
The prevention and cure for obesity
When one is starting to gain weight, PASOO president, Dr. Fojas advised to first target a 5 to 10-percent weight loss to achieve ideal BMI or waist circumference and to consciously live a healthier lifestyle.
This of course can be done by healthy diet and exercise.
The fitness and wellness couple Coaches Jim and Toni Saret echoed this by saying, “Exercising is just moving.” They advised everyone to move more, even while sitting down. This principle will be the focus of the interactive Body of Truth 8-Week challenge and community to be launched in the Body of Truth Facebook page ( www.facebook.com/BodyOfTruth ) on September 13 to help people kickstart their health journey.
“What if exercise and diet are not enough to address the issue,” asked Dr. Pasamba, since obesity as a disease has been proven to have farther reaching complications if not diagnosed early.
Coach Jim acknowledged this and mentioned that they have been advising people to seek medical advice prior to engaging in any diet or fitness regimen.
Dr. Fojas added, “Normally, people approach fitness experts first on matters of weight. However, there is a need for people to consult their doctors first, as all doctors are qualified to assist, diagnose, and manage patients especially on matters concerning the prevention and management of obesity.”
In addition, Dr. Fojas stressed that there are instances when medication is needed especially for morbidly obese-classified patients. There are medicines, like over-the-counter ones and injectable GLP-1 Receptor Agonist drugs, among others, that can be prescribed by endocrinologists. These are options used to treat the disease.
In the end, the right knowledge, information, and treatment are key to beat obesity. These can be done by healthcare professionals who are able to provide the right diagnosis and proper guidance. They are the very same experts who will pave the way so we can all beat obesity as one community.
For more information on obesity and the chance to join the Body of Truth 8-Week challenge, please visit www.facebook.com/BodyOfTruth.