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Non-communicable diseases among top killer diseases in the Philippines

COVID-19 understandably became one of the leading causes of death during the height of pandemic, but even more pressing than that are the lifestyle diseases that most people would not easily notice. 

According to data compiled by the Philippine Statistics Authority from January-June 2021, the top five causes of deaths in the country are: ischemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease including strokes and aneurysms, neoplasms or cancers, and COVID-19. A recent report from World Health Organization (WHO) also shows that an estimated 70 percent of deaths in the Philippines are due to Non –communicable diseases (NCDs) – or diseases that are not usually caused by infection but instead are largely due to genetics or lifestyle choices. 

According to WHO, 511,748 Filipinos succumbed to NCDs in 2019. 72 percent of deaths among women and 68 percent of deaths among men were due to NCDs. The report also shows significant figures on the number of fatalities recorded in 2019 due to NCDs – 34 percent were cardiovascular-related diseases; 24 percent were communicable, maternal, perinatal, and nutritional conditions; 13 percent were due to other NCDs; 9 percent were cancer-induced; and the remaining percentages were chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, and injuries. 

Lifestyle diseases among aging individuals

During the Grandparents’ Day Celebration at Manila Doctors Hospital last September 6, Internist-Cardiologist Dr. Anthony “Tony” Leachon confirmed that 6 out of 10 ‘killer diseases’ in the country are lifestyle-related. A known health reform advocate, Leachon enumerated the most common lifestyle diseases prevalent in the Philippines- the coronary heart disease or the blockage of the coronary artery (brought about by the fat on the artery), stroke, cancer, and diabetes. These diseases are mainly caused by smoking, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, obesity, and alcohol problems. He noted that these diseases are more prominent among aging individuals, however, he also acknowledged that younger generations also experience these lifestyle diseases primarily due to the advances in technology and changing lifestyle. “Younger generation must also be closely monitored if they are prone to developing lifestyle diseases. Working individuals are more predisposed to develop complications”, he added. 

To help mitigate the risk factors of lifestyle diseases, the cardiologist advised people of all ages to follow a balanced diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, the right amount of carbohydrates, and sources of protein. Limiting the intake of processed foods and red meat would also prove to be a health benefit, noting that it is more advisable to consume white meat like fish and chicken, beans, and legumes. This, combined with daily exercise, would help prevent hypertension, diabetes, heart attack, and cancer. Apart from a person’s physical health, Leachon also remarked on the increasing number of individuals experiencing mental health concerns. Noting that 1 in every 2 adults experience loneliness due to the pandemic, he advised that a way to address mental health problems is through physical energy. Daily exercise increases the level of endorphins, the hormones that increase oxygen delivered to the brain, in the body. This affects their emotional energy, thus experiencing a higher sense of purpose and meaningful life.