Although the exact cause could not be pinpointed, a new research says many children from low-income families are overweight. The first thing that crossed my mind was that I have never seen an obese child from a poor family in the Philippines. Fat babies, yes. But overweight children above the age of 7, I don’t think so.
There appear to be two theories from previous research studies:
Previous research has suggested that poor children weren’t getting nutritious food and instead ate junk food, such as hot dogs. Or that children may have eaten well when money was available, but would skip meals when cash was short, a cycle that could slow their metabolism and cause them to gain weight [Yahoo!].
Both theories are challenged in the new study (limited to three areas in the U.S.) but the latter is inconclusive anyway. Crazy, really, because apart from the statistics, the report says nothing more except that “much more research is needed.” Duh, but anyway…
There might be something in the “eating the wrong food” theory. People do get fat from eating the wrong food despite insufficient amounts. In highly industrialized countries where processed food is cheaper than fresh food, well, it does seem logical to presume that a cup of junk food three times a day will go much farther towards the road to obesity than three cups of fresh meat/seafood, vegetables and fruits three times a day. You know, the irony of being overweight but malnourished.
But in poor countries like the Philippines, families with very little income will not buy the kind of high-fat junk food that poor families in rich countries buy. Instead of hotdogs (considered a luxury by poor Filipino families), it’ll be instant noodles, boiled fresh vegetables (probably doused with a lot of patis or toyo for flavor), fried salted fish AND a lot of rice which, as always, is the tummy filler. Kids are not likely to become obese with such a diet — undernourishment is the main problem and they might develop kidney trouble later in their adult life because of the tremendous amount of sodium that go in their food.
While that may sound good in a twisted sense for those obsessed with physical appearance, poor families in Third World Asian countries may be facing a much bigger food problem. Prices of food in Asia have been going up, up and up and are not likely to go down soon.
The cause is not a simple equation of a high demand vis a vis a dwindling supply. It’s more complicated than that. Inflation, oil prices, changing lifestyles and industrialization (some call it progress but that may be debatable) are all factors. If that sounds alien, consider the statement that “China has lost 6 percent of its arable land since 1996 to industrial encroachment and desertification.” Translate that to the Philippine experience and ask how much agricultural lands have been converted to industrial uses.
In fact, let’s go even farther. There is at least one case, that of Hacienda Looc, where agricultural land had been sold by the government for conversion to a resort community. That’s exchanging a steady supply of food for a few millions which will just go to pay off debts — a gesture that will not put food in the mouths of the hungry. As of November, 2007, the farmers were still asking the Department of Agrarian Reform to nullify the sale. As unbelievable as it may seem, SM Properties Hamilo Coast project was one of the beneficiaries of the sale and I actually displayed a Hamilo Coast ad in Pinoy Cook for an entire month last year until I got pissed with the advertising agency representing Hamilo Coast and I decided that one month was enough. Gee, had I known about the controversy, I never would have. I truly regret having agreed to display the ad.
The bottomline is that the way we’re going — skyrocketing prices of food and all — it seems improbable that any significant number of Filipino children from poor families will become obese. They’re looking at a much more serious problem — previously unknown depths of malnourishment and, eventually, starvation.