Environment linked to unhealthy behavior

Posted at 05/03/12 1:13 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Many people believe that lifestyle diseases are mainly a result of vices and bad food choices, but a doctor maintained that it mainly a result of environmental influences.

In a statement released by Health Justice, a non-governmental organization, Dr. Antonio Miguel Dans of the Philippine General Hospital said non-communicable diseases such as heart problems are brought by the presence of cheap junk food and cigarettes, as well as lack of places to exercise.

“One misconception is that lifestyle is a choice. It is not. Lifestyle is a human response to the physical, social and even regulatory environment,” Dans said.

“We eat unhealthy because junk food is very cheap. We don’t exercise because there is no place to exercise. And we smoke because we are exposed to advertisements even when we’re young, and because smoking is the cheapest form of leisure available.

“We can try to educate everyone as much as we can but unless we change the factors that lead to these unhealthy behaviors, people will not change the way they live.”

Citing data from the National Statistical Coordination Board, Health Justice noted that heart disease remains the number one cause of mortality in the country.

Dr. Anthony Leachon, a consultant at the Department of Health, earlier noted that “people only respond to what the environment can give you,” referring to food and lifestyle choices.

He cited Singapore, where people are trained to “not smoke, spit and litter.”

“It’s about ignorance. We need to educate a lot of people. Ineptitude – knowledge exists right now that smoking is dangerous, but people would not comply to the guidelines correctly. And the environment may not be conducive to good lifestyle,’ Leachon said in a previous interview.

Changing the environment

Dans said the country should have “Health Promotion” programs, defined by the Ottawa Charter as “the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve their health.”

He said countries such as Thailand and Australia have been implementing these programs through revenue generated from sin taxes.

Examples of programs include wellness services, seminars and proper food labeling.

“For the sake of our children, we must fight for an environment that enables a healthy lifestyle. We need to talk to our legislators and LGU officials, our builders and employers, education officials, the food industry, and more. If we do not join hands in this endeavor, then hundreds of thousands will continue to die every year,” Dans said.

The DOH is currently pushing for the three Ls – learning, LGU (local government units) and labeling – to address the NCD epidemic in the country, according to Leachon.

He added that the agency also supports the local doctors’ proposal to raise taxes on alcohol products.