Saturday, July 14, 2007

Eat no evil

PAYDAYS are terrible for grocery shopping as most wage earners stock up then on household “basics,” including a disproportionately large number of snack food, canned goods, processed meats and high-sugar drinks. The children clothes on sale are often always the extra-small and small sizes as, in these days of plenty, even children require two or more sizes bigger than what their ages normally require.

Prosperity used to be blamed for the middle class’ woes with obesity and its attendant ills. But even among the more depressed communities, it is not money per se but a brew of emaciated wallets, many mouths, cheap fried food and disregard for health that is expanding the waistlines of the poor even as they poison their insides.

Decades ago, sari-sari stores defined street corners. Replacing them now are stalls selling battered chicken and rolling stores hawking fried tempura, shrimp/squid balls and siomai.

In the inner streets of the city are crowds clustering around a pan of bubbling pork brains and fats. Tuslob-buwa fills the gut of anyone who can afford the P1.50 price of a puso (hanging rice), dipped in the collective fat vat. The heat kills the germs, explains a regular suki to first-timers who balk at dipping their rice with strangers.

In the bleakest of ironies, the country, formerly starving, is now eating its way to illness, stress and financial difficulties from rising medical expenses.

The country was singled out as the most stressed-out in Asia, with two out of five Filipinos feeling they are extremely stressed. Forty-three percent of Filipinos feel this way, according to the first Asia Health Survey.

In August 2006, Reader’s Digest and Nielsen Media Research asked 24,000 Asians for their views on health, ailments, medicine and other remedies, and hospital care. Covered in this survey were the Philippines, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.

The study proponents noted the higher incidence of high blood pressure, arthritis, high cholesterol, heart and sight problems, obesity and diabetes in the Philippines than in the rest of the region.

Where should one turn to for answers about their health? According to the July 13, 2007 report of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, local medical specialists point out a diet of fish and vegetables will bring back good health.

But fish and vegetables—sold as fillets and organic salads—are among the most expensive items in fast food menus. For roughly the same price, a two-piece chicken meal will most likely be ordered by a famished customer who wants fullness, not wellness, after shelling out P200.

South Asians might also have history against them. According to a Nov. 8, 2004 Time feature, scientists say that the region is harboring a “starving gene” after “living for thousands of years under near-famine conditions.” When food was scarce, having “metabolically efficient” systems benefited Asians. It works against them as food became plentiful.

Traditional diets might take some time to become the vogue. But India, the least stressed in the Asia Health Survey, and Singapore show what might work. Modifying traditional yoga meets modern lifestyles among the health-conscious in India. According to the same Time article, Singapore tests schoolchildren, nine years up, and then requires running or aerobics an hour a week if they fail. Food-stall operators are also urged to use more vegetables, less oil, salt and syrup.

Can this be replicated in the country? If no other alternative comes up, then Wails will not be a homophone for a country. It will be the state of the Filipino. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 15, 2007 issue

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