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Focusing on health

While I was trolling the cable channels the other night, I came upon a most unusual show on KBS, a Korean channel that comes with subtitles in English. It had the most bizarre premise: a contest among entertainers to see who among them was not the best singer, best dancer or best actor, but who was the “healthiest.”

That show’s focus was on healthy lungs, and the contestants—two members each of a boy band and a girl band, a middle-aged actress, a fairly senior actor with Caucasian features (but a fluent Korean speaker), and an aging male rock star (with long flowing tresses)—were brought to a hospital where they underwent a battery of tests. These included breathing through a tube to measure the strength of their lungs, tests for allergies, and CT scan of their lungs, plus an extensive interview with a doctor.

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Back in the studio, the entertainers were then shown the results of their tests, where they were ranked from one to seven, with seven having the healthiest lungs, and one with the least healthy lungs. After each contestant’s ranking was revealed, a lung specialist explained in detail why each did so badly (or well) and pointed out areas of concern. As expected, the younger performers did better, with a girl singer, all of 21 years old, who the hosts said was the “Beyonce of Korea,” did best.

And not unsurprisingly, the senior rock star, who during the tests and the “reveal” aired his concerns about “losing” the challenge, ended up the least healthy. A two-pack-a-day smoker, he had just 85 percent breathing capacity and, more alarming, the CT scan revealed some nodes in his lungs. “I advise you not just to cut down on smoking, but to stop smoking entirely, right now,” said the doctor.

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The show ended with the singer promising his children that their father would try to quit cold-turkey. “Just watch me, I can do it,” he declared.

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The show fascinated me because I don’t think such a show would flourish, let alone be green-lighted, in this country.

Local fans obsess about their idols’ love lives, fashion choices and even their homes and cars, but are they at all concerned about health—both their idols’ and their own?

Health receives such a low priority in our hierarchy of needs. In fact, a study done among urban poor families and their budget priorities has shown that the poor allot the biggest slice of their budget to “rent,” food, power, water, education and then to “cell phone load.” Health ranked lower, and even then most families reported spending on more affordable herbal cures (even if these were of doubtful efficacy) and over-the-counter medications that treat symptoms rather than the cause of illness.

Vices like smoking, drinking and gambling also ate up a chunk of the poor’s income.

A health expert has clarified several misconceptions about noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as high blood pressure and heart disease, that are the leading causes of death in the country, and are sometimes known as “lifestyle diseases.” Dr. Antonio Miguel Dans of the Philippine General Hospital addressed the myth that “lifestyle is a choice.” “It is not,” he said. “Lifestyle is a human response to the physical, social and even regulatory environment. 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.”

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Another misconception, said Doctor Dans, is that “NCD is a disease of individuals. It is not. It is a disease of society. Therefore, NCD control should not just be the responsibility of the (Department of Health) and health professionals. Revising the physical, social and built environment is something the health profession cannot do. It is something the whole of society should work on—together.”

In countries like Thailand and Australia, health promotion activities are being carried out with revenue generated from “sin” taxes imposed on items like cigarettes and liquor. This is the objective of proposed legislation to rationalize the taxes now imposed on “sin” products here. For as Doctor Dans says: “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 (local government) 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.”

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Fourteen women members of the House of Representatives, dubbed the “House 14,” visited China last month at the invitation of the Chinese leadership. It was, in the words of Rep. Gina de Venecia, president of the Association of Women Legislators Foundation Inc., both “an enriching experience and a modest diplomatic triumph for both countries.”

The nine-day visit of the congresswomen, the largest ever in Philippine-China parliamentary relations, took place at a sensitive period in relations between the two countries, taking place around the time that a dispute erupted regarding the presence of Chinese vessels in the Panatag Islands at the West Philippine Sea.

The “House 14,” though, took the opportunity to “contribute in the peace-keeping efforts” and maintain harmonious relations with our huge neighbor. As former deputy speaker Daisy Avance Fuentes said at one meeting: “We were a little apprehensive coming here, but we hope that by honoring your invitation, we have shown you that we have chosen the path of peace in resolving the conflict between our countries.”

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