5.094 Glitch

Cycle 5 – Item 94

9 (Wed) April 2014




-Ermita, Manila, Metro Manila, Philippines-

with meeting participants

At last, the Consultation on Overweight, Obesity, Diabetes, and Law (OODL) is underway.  From 9 (Wed) to 11 (Fri) April 2014.  At the World Health Organization Regional Office for the Western Pacific in Manila, Philippines.  Co-hosted by the International Development Law Organization and the University of Sydney.  Objectives: to examine the problem from both medical and legal perspectives, also considering related issues such as trade, access to medicines, and discrimination; to identify examples of best practices and determine methods for developing and implementing national legislation and regulation; and to propose next steps towards a regional agenda.

Not including secretariat, experts from 19 countries.

The following is an excerpt from the speech that I wrote for our Regional Director to be read at the opening ceremony.

The Western Pacific is one of the most diverse and dynamic regions in the world.   Our Member States are characterized by globalization and urbanization and modernization.  Ironically, with rapid economic growth and increased spending power, our people are starving.  They are starving for foods that are high in quality and nutritional value.  Instead, they are consuming cheaply processed, nutrition-poor foods.  Such foods now dominate the market through mass production and wide distribution and aggressive promotion.  In the Pacific, for example, the typical diet has transitioned from traditional yam and taro to corned beef and hot dogs, from water to sugar sweetened beverages.  Adult prevalence of obesity among Islanders is currently 75%.  Unhealthy diet—along with physical inactivity, tobacco use, and alcohol abuse—is 1 of 4 primary risk factors for noncommunicable disease.  The 4 major NCDs—cancers, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and of course diabetes—account for more than 80% of deaths in the Region each year.  As with any NCD, diabetes is a complex problem.  It must be viewed from various perspectives and approached holistically.  That approach must envision, embrace, and engage medical interventions, as well as economic and cultural considerations, and of course legal mechanisms, not only for prevention but also for management of the disease.

 I share it here because it’s about food, sort of.

The meat of the meeting, so to speak, came from the group work sessions – e.g., we asked the experts to populate these charts with detailed information on the laws in their countries concerning unhealthy diet and physical activity.

OODL has been my raison d’être at WHO, the project for which I was initially hired back in January. My work has since expanded to engage many other programs in the division, but OODL has always remained the primary responsibility.  Now that it’s here, I feel like a pregnant woman whose water has just broken and in labor – not that I would know what that feels like.

At the end of each session, facilitators helped to report on regional trends/themes, noted novel approaches, etc

Among the myriad tasks that I dealt with throughout the organizing process, the only actual fun part from a personal perspective was selecting the menus for the welcome reception and the refreshment breaks.  I took inspiration from various functions that I’ve attended over the past few months.  Given the subject matter of OODL, I was careful to keep everything appropriately light and healthy, no desserts, no sugar-sweetened beverages, no alcohol.

Best laid plans, the menus got hijacked.  1.5 hours after the opening bell, at the first break, where one of the items served was penne in tomato sauce – in retrospect, I admit, not very light, though relatively healthy – our director called an audible and took it upon herself to rework the menus.  For whatever reason, the entire order from Shawarma Snack Center got cancelled and transferred to the WHO cafeteria, which kinda prepared the same items.  Oh well.  If this ends up being OODL’s biggest glitch, I’ll take it.

Leftovers were distributed upstairs in our division offices, where everyone enjoyed the food immensely, you’re welcome.

Earlier in the afternoon, we were honored to hear a presentation from Congresswoman EBS of the Philippine House of Representatives, who has introduced a house bill to add a 10% ad valorem tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

Inspired by her example, I’ve sworn to quit drinking Coke Zero, even if it’s sugar free.  With a habit of 2 to 6 cans a day, quitting won’t be easy.  Probably even more difficult than quitting smoking, though that was surprisingly easy for me despite having smoked more than a pack a day for 21 years.  Wish me luck.



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