Healthy Philippines Alliance Warns Against Dangers of Ultra-Processed Foods: A Call to Prioritise Heart Health

The Healthy Philippines Alliance (HPA) is a team of civil society organisations dedicated to combating noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). 

The HPA warned about the health risks associated with frequent consumption of ultra-processed food products. The HPA highlights the link between such dietary habits and the development of multimorbidity. This usually shows with combinations of cancer and cardiometabolic diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and kidney problems. With this, they urge the public to prioritise heart health by reducing their intake of unhealthy processed foods. 

Understanding Ultra-Processed Foods

Ultra-processed food products encompass many items laden with preservatives, emulsifiers, artificial sweeteners, colours, and flavours. This category includes popular items such as breakfast cereals, soft drinks, ice cream, hotdogs, corned beef, meatloaf, sausages, and instant noodles. However, these products often lack essential nutrients and are associated with adverse health outcomes when consumed regularly.

The Link to Multimorbidity

Recent research has shown a clear association between frequent consumption of ultra-processed foods and the development of multimorbidity. Multimorbidity is a condition characterised by the coexistence of two or more chronic diseases. Moreover, it not only burdens individuals and healthcare systems significantly. It also increases the risk of premature death and disability. Therefore, proactive steps should be taken toward improving population health and well-being by addressing the root causes of multimorbidity, including unhealthy dietary patterns.

Protecting the Heart

Dr Jaime Galvez Tan, former Health Secretary and convener of the HPA, stresses the importance of prioritising heart health through dietary choices. “One way of showing extra love and care for our hearts is to cut down our consumption of Ultra-Processed Products (UPPs) to save ourselves from cardiovascular diseases,” he emphasises. Dr Tan advocates replacing UPPs with healthier alternatives such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and home-cooked meals. These choices provide essential nutrients while reducing the intake of harmful additives.

Long-Term Health and Economic Benefits

In addition to safeguarding individual health, a healthier diet can yield long-term economic benefits. This is achieved by mitigating the burden of healthcare costs associated with NCDs. Dr Tan underscores this point. “A healthier diet will, in the long run, also save us from the economic burden of health care costs.” By investing in preventive measures and promoting healthier lifestyles, individuals can help alleviate the strain on healthcare systems.

Alarming Trends in Disease Burden

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority paint a concerning picture of the country’s current state of cardiovascular health. Ischemic heart disease, a leading cause of heart attacks, emerged as the number one cause of death from January to July 2023. 65,000 such cases were reported during this period. These statistics underscore the urgent need for concerted efforts to address the underlying factors contributing to the prevalence of heart disease and related conditions.

Empowering Communities Through Education and Access

Additionally, the HPA emphasises the importance of empowering communities with the knowledge and resources to make healthier choices. Education campaigns, nutritional literacy programs, and initiatives to improve access to fresh, nutritious foods in underserved areas can play a vital role in promoting heart-healthy habits and reducing the prevalence of NCDs.

Collaborative Solutions for a Healthier Future

As the prevalence of NCDs continues to rise, collaborative efforts between government agencies, healthcare professionals, civil society organisations, and the private sector are essential. By working together to address the root causes of poor dietary habits and implementing evidence-based interventions, stakeholders can significantly improve cardiovascular health and overall well-being for all Filipinos.

Prioritising Heart Health for a Better Tomorrow

In conclusion, the HPA’s warning serves as a wake-up call to the detrimental effects of ultra-processed foods on heart health and overall well-being. Together, let us prioritise heart health and take proactive steps toward building a healthier, more resilient Philippines.

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