In our hands

Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial’s recent announcement that half of 12 million hypertensive Filipinos are unaware of their condition and are therefore “walking time bombs” indicates the great need for health awareness that many among us choose to ignore. Or perhaps are forced to, by grim financial circumstances that dictate, say, putting food on the table as high priority and health concerns at the low end of the totem.

Ubial’s numbers may shock Filipinos despite growing evidence of a looming hypertensive epidemic. The Department of Health has launched a campaign dubbed “May Measurement Month 2017” and aimed at screening at least 1.7 million Filipinos for hypertension. “Some of these unsuspecting hypertensive individuals are extremely at risk and can be considered ‘walking time bombs’ because anytime they can figuratively ‘explode’ to develop complications like massive stroke, heart attack, heart failure and kidney failure,” Ubial said. She said more than 200,000 Filipinos are felled every year directly or indirectly by high blood pressure, making hypertension the third highest cause of death in the country.

The DOH recommends a healthy diet, but most Filipinos are too engrossed in day-to-day survival to bother with balanced meals and green, leafy stuff, and are quite happy with the convenience offered by fast food—often deep-fried, excessively salty, and therefore delicious as sin. No, eating healthy does not come easy for Filipinos who generally love to eat out and snack at every opportunity.

The high rate of hypertension among adults is perhaps matched by the alarming trend in diabetes and obesity in children—an apparent result of today’s high-sugar, high-fat, and high-salt diet. From the carbs- and sodium-heavy meals of instant noodles and rice to the sugary swoon of soda, Filipino children have never been more prone to getting fat than now. The Philippine Council for Health Research and Development reported in the 8th National Nutrition Survey that the tendency to become overweight in Filipino children between zero and 5 years old has jumped from 1 percent in 1989 to 5 percent in 2013, and those between 5 and 10 years old, from 5.8 percent in 2003 to 9.1 percent in 2013.

The point about obese children is that more likely than not, they will become hypertensive adults vulnerable to a whole panoply of health risks.

Childhood obesity is a global problem, and in the United States it was problematic enough to warrant the personal attention of then First Lady Michelle Obama. In 2010, she launched her multidiscipline “Let’s Move” program which was aimed at pulling down the US child obesity rate of 17 percent to 5 percent by 2030. (Alas, Let’s Move, which had been praised for improving the health of American schoolchildren through stricter guidelines in the preparation of school lunches, may go to waste as the Trump administration appears determined to stamp out all Obama-era projects.)

In these parts, campaigns like the DOH’s May Measurement Month should be an eye-opener for those Filipinos who have no idea of the physical state they’re in, and who, having been apprised, should forthwith take up a program designed to improve their chances of survival to a happy old age. It is time to adopt a new way of thinking, one which involves policing what we feed our children and ourselves, as well as adopting an exercise-friendly routine for everyone in the family.

As Ubial pointed out, getting tested for conditions such as high blood pressure is the beginning. “We advise the public to know their blood pressure and adopt a healthy lifestyle because your health is in your hands,” she said.

Indeed. But without proper education (to understand one’s health condition and that of loved ones), proper jobs (to gain the wherewithal for a healthy way of living), even proper pedestrian lanes and bike lanes (to allow full use of walking and biking as part of one’s daily activities), screening for dangerous ailments will not be of much use. As always, a holistic approach is key if our health is truly in our hands.