Duterte puts focus on health risks of Pinoys' rice diet

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 18 2017 05:43 PM

Street children in Manila take a much needed meal of rice porridge along Burgos Street in Manila. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte in recent days has put focus on the rice-heavy diet of Filipinos and its role in the rising number of diabetes cases in the Philippines.

On several occasions, the President has blamed the heavy rice intake of Filipinos for the high number of diabetes cases in the Philippines.

“Pag-hit mo ng 60 o 50 [years old], pasok na iyan, diabetes kasi kinakain natin, kanin. That’s the most vicious of all the carbohydrates. Kaya pinakamataas ang Southeast Asia because we are rice-eating. Hindi iyan virus, it is not a bacteria, it’s just malfunction sa body mo because of iyong sobra tayo sa carbohydrate,” Duterte said in a speech in San Miguel, Bulacan last October 11.

“Alam mo ang traditional ailment ng Pilipino? We are a rice–eating nation, so it’s diabetes. It is not caused by any germ, virus, but it’s actually an adequacy of the body to cope up with so much of the rice that we eat, carbo. That’s about it,” the President said in another speech in Camarines Sur on October 17.

Duterte’s assertion is backed by studies which have found a link between rice intake and the risk of incurring Type 2 Diabetes.

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) show that “people who ate the most rice—three to four servings a day—were 1.5 times more likely to have diabetes than people who ate the least amount of rice.”

White rice has a high glycemic index, meaning that it can cause spikes in blood sugar. Previous research has linked high glycemic index foods with increased type 2 diabetes risk, according to a news article published by the HSPH.

Meanwhile, Dr. Augusto Litonjua, was quoted in a news report last year as saying that at least 6 million Filipinos have been diagnosed to have diabetes. He said this figure could double by 2040.

The Duterte administration has proposed measures to combat diabetes, such as the imposition of taxes on sugary drinks, but not on rice, which is considered a politically sensitive commodity. 

A senator recently drew flak for proposing that “unlimited rice” promos in food establishments be banned because of its adverse effects on the health of Filipinos.

Duterte, 72, has drawn from his personal experiences in imposing health policies. Earlier this year, the President, who suffers from Buerger’s disease, approved a nationwide public smoking ban.