Battling the Bulge


Back in the years when one of the Philippines’ major healthcare issues was under nutrition, a highly esteemed endocrinologist in the country saw otherwise. Like a true medical visionary, he saw the looming threat of overweight and obesity among Filipinos; hence, the Philippine Association for the Study of Overweight and Obesity (PASOO) was born

By Gelyka Ruth R. Dumaraos

In 1993, Dr. Augusto D. Litonjua, acknowledged as the Father of Philippine Endocrinology, attended the European Congress on Obesity held in Ulm, Germany where he met experts in diabetes and other metabolic problems. During the congress, the importance of maintaining one’s ideal body weight was highlighted in view of the already increasing rate of overweight and obesity in Europe and the United States. Coming home from the congress, he was encouraged to create a local organization to look into studying how overweight and obesity could affect every Filipino’s health.

“At first I was reluctant because I did not really know if there is a problem of obesity in the Philippines because what I felt was that the more grievous problem was under nutrition,” Dr. Litonjua says.

But with the help of individuals from different fields including endocrinology, obstetrics, cardiology, and nutrition, and support of Les Laboratoires Servier, the Philippine Association for the Study of Overweight and Obesity (PASOO) was formally organized.

Second row, from left: Ritchie Guiterrez (Servier) Roberto Mirasol, MD (Immediate Past President), Celeste C. Tanchoco, MPH, DrPh, RND (board member), Michael Rosario, MD (board member), Nemencio Nicodemus, Jr, MD (Secretary), Juan Maria Ibarra Co, MD (Treasurer), Sanirose Orbeta, MS,RD,FADA (board member), Prof. Hercules Callanta, MSPE (board member), Guillen Mendoza (LRI-Therapharma)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          First row, from left: Mia Fojas, MD (Vice-President), Edgardo Tolentino, Jr, MD (Current President), Marjorie Ramos, MD (board member)

Along with Dr. Augusto D. Litonjua were the other incorporators—Dr. Florante P. Gonzaga, Dr. Mary Anne Lim-Abrahan, Dr. Rosa Allyn G. Sy, Dr. Lyra Ruth C. Teodoro, Dr. Joseph A. Regalado, Dr. Edgardo L. Tolentino, Dr. Rodolfo F. Florentino, and Ms. Sanirose S. Orbeta, MS, RD, FADA. All of them shared the common goal of understanding better the causes, complications and treatment of overweight and obesity.

PASOO was incorporated and registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission on September 28, 1994 as a non-stock, non-profit organization with a mission and vision of creating public awareness of the consequences of obesity; hence, preventing the increase in the prevalence of this metabolic disease in the country.

“We wanted it to a be multi-specialty group,” Dr. Litonjua adds, who served as president for 11 years. “We were attending congresses on obesity and we kept our society growing. We were going to several cities in the Philippines to make doctors aware of the problems of obesity.”

PASOO Incorporators 1994
Seated: Dr. Mary Anne Lim-Abrahan, Dr. Rosa Allyn G. Sy, Dr. Augusto D. Litonjua, Dr.
Rodolfo F. Florentino
Standing: Dr. Edgardo L. Tolentino, Jr., Dr. Lyra Ruth C. Teodoro, Mrs. Sanirose S. Orbeta,
MS, RD, FADA, Dr. Joseph A. Regalado. Not in photo: Dr. Florante P. Gonzaga

The organization went from region to region to educate fellow doctors and healthcare professionals about the problem of obesity in the country. Because of its active advocacy against obesity, PASOO gained international recognition when it became a full member of the International Association for the Study of Overweight and Obesity (IASO) on June 21, 1995.

As it aimed to spread awareness among the lay, PASOO also encouraged research in the field of prevention and management of overweight and obesity. It continued to spearhead workshops to formulate study protocols in the different research areas. These protocols and the preliminary results of the workshops were presented during the first annual convention in 1995. The theme of the first convention was “The Pathogenesis and Treatment of Obesity”.

Kids School Health Lecture at the Rafael Palma Elementary School, July 25, 2017, Makati

For its annual convention in the next several years since its establishment, PASOO has come up with themes tackling the current issues and stateof-the-art scientific information on the management of obesity. PASOO also initiated numerous campaigns and projects to further reach out to the public.

Among these was the launching of Healthy Food Guide Pyramid created by PASOO’s Vice-president Ms. Sanirose S. Orbeta in 1997. This pyramid food guide, endorsed by FNRI and PASOO, helped in instructing patients how to eat properly.

Moreover, the association launched the “Pyramid Choice” project in 1998, which was the establishment of obesityfriendly hotels and restaurants. Participating hotels and restaurants committed to offer low fat, low calorie menus evaluated and approved by expert dietitians who were members of PASOO.

Augusto D. Litonjua, MD, FPCP, FPSEDM
Founding President

As it marked its fifth year, President Joseph Estrada declared the first week of September of every year as Obesity Awareness and Prevention Week, which was the brainchild of Ms. Celeste Tanchoco, RD, and her staff.

At the onset of the new millennium, PASOO has taken on bigger responsibilities to lead the way in overcoming obesity through different projects that target the masses. On top of its annual conventions, PASOO further reached out to different sectors—both private or public—to increase awareness with numerous tieups with government agencies, pharmaceutical companies, the academe and in sports.

Curbing obesity

According to the World Health Organization obesity has ballooned since 1975 worldwide. It was recorded that in 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese people.

It can be noted that most of the world’s population lives in countries where overweight and obesity kill more people than underweight. The children are also a vulnerable sector of the population; and in 2016, it was reported that 41 million kids under the age of five were overweight or obese. In the same period, over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese.

Dr. Litonjua believes that the fight to curb obesity has a long way to go, and as an acknowledged authority in the field, he definitely knows whereof he speaks.

“It has not sunk in very much,” he stresses, adding, “Just by observing people at the mall, one can see fat parents with their fat kids.”

For him, the problem of overweight and obesity resulted from the proliferation of fast food chains serving high-calorie and high-sugar food choices. There was also this notion, he noted, that parents equate being fat to being healthy.

Exercise is Medicine Philippines (EIMP) Exercise Prescription Course for physical fitness professionals & primary care physicians at the PARM Annual Convention, September 22, 2017, Novotel Araneta, Quezon City

Dr. Litonjua, who is also the founder of different medical societies such as the Philippine Society of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism (PSEDM), and Philippine Center for Diabetes Education Foundation (PCDEF Inc.), points out that sugar and not fat is the culprit why people continue to gain weight.

“What makes the obesity problem worse is sugar and not fats, especially fructose-sweetened drinks like soft drinks,” he says. Trans fat also adds to the risk. These are found in processed foods as preservatives to prolong shelf life and to make the products more palatable like chips, donuts, and French fries.

Curbing overweight and obesity is definitely a tall order. Dr. Litonjua calls on everyone to ditch the sedentary lifestyle—or what he calls as the “KKK”—Katamaran (Laziness), Katabaan (Obesity), and Katakawan (Gluttony).

Although PASOO’s role is to educate the public of the risks of overweight and obesity, and how they could be avoided, this does not necessarily translate to success since it still depends on the individual if they would follow the lifestyle recommendations they’re advised to practice.

As a final word, Dr. Litonjua reiterates, “Live a healthy lifestyle. Healthy lifestyle means just two things—eating healthy and exercising healthy.”

“Healthy lifestyle means just two things—eating healthy and exercising healthy”

July 2018 Health and Lifestyle

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