MANILA – The Department of Health and several organizations on Thursday called for the regulation of marketing unhealthy foods to children, following an increase in the number of overweight and obese children in the country.

In a joint statement, the Department of Health (DOH), National Nutritional Council (NNC), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO), and United Children’s Fund (UNICEF) urged stakeholders for the firm enforcement of existing laws and to introduce front of pack labeling of commercial foods.

Based on the Expanded National Nutrition Survey by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) in 2019, there was a relatively low prevalence of overweight at 2.9 percent among Filipino children under five years old; and a medium prevalence of 9.1 percent and 9.8 percent among children aged five 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 a higher prevalence of several risk factors and environmental conditions could rapidly increase the rates,” the statement read.

“We also call on the public to change the way overweight and obesity is viewed by society and to become advocates for change for healthy food environments and policies that prioritize obesity as a serious health issue,” it said.

According to the WHO, overweight and obese children are more likely to stay obese into adulthood and to develop diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease at a younger age.

“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 of overweight and obesity,” it said.

While overweight and obesity "pales in comparison" with undernutrition, DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III said the emerging problem should be mitigated to prevent the future risk of 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,” Duque said.

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

Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, UNICEF representative in the Philippines, said that while there have been positive developments for better nutrition in the country, there was still a need for “clear and prompt” action to address the burden of malnutrition and to recognize childhood overweight and obesity as a “central health issue”. (PNA)