PNoy gets health award: Will he now quit smoking?
The World Health Organization in the Western Pacific Region observes World Health Day on April 8 via a ceremony honoring President Aquino

HEALTH AWARD. Philippine president Benigno Aquino III  to receive WHO award for his "exemplary leadership in public health."

MANILA, Philippines – The World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific Region will observe World Health Day 2013 on April 8 with a ceremony honoring President Benigno Aquino III.

“It is fitting that we celebrate World Health Day by recognizing President Aquino’s exemplary leadership in public health,” WHO regional director for Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo said in a statement.

Aquino is being cited for raising taxes on tobacco and alcohol, giving vulnerable Filipinos access to health insurance and to reproductive health care, according to Shin.

“He truly embodies the principle from which WHO derives so much of its direction and inspiration: that the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is a fundamental right,” Shin said, explaining the award.

But Aquino, who reportedly smokes at least one pack every day, will receive the award in the face of lingering calls for him to quit his vice. The health risks associated with smoking are common knowledge.

Preventable death

The 2013 World Health Day celebration aims to combat high blood pressure or hypertension health experts say is the cause of many heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases.

High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of preventable death, accounting for 80% of the deaths in the Western Pacific Alone, the WHO reported.

37% of adults (older than 24) in the region have high blood pressure, 40.4% of which are men and 34.9% women. WHO records also show alarming health risks people in the region are exposed to:

  • 36.7% of adults aged 25 and older have raised blood cholesterol
  • 33.2% of people older than 15 years have insufficient physical activity
  • 25.4% of adults older than 20 years are overweight
  • 24.8% of adults aged older than 15 smoke tobacco daily

Based on WHO data, high blood pressure complications account for 9.4 million deaths around the globe each year. One in 3 adults worldwide has high blood pressure.

“High blood pressure is a major risk factor for the cardiovascular diseases that account for about half of non-communicable disease deaths. So, the connection between controlling high blood pressure and achieving our ambitious targets for the control of the non-communicable diseases is plain,”  Shin said.

‘Silent killer’

But many people are unaware they have high blood pressure because it does not always manifest symptoms, making it a silent killer, the WHO said.

According to the international health organization, high blood pressure is often related to behavioral or lifestyle factors — eating food high in salt and fat, the harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity and tobacco use. (Read related article: UN: The world is obese) 

Moreover, metabolic risk factors such as diabetes, high blood cholesterol and obesity increase the risk of complications from high blood pressure, including heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and blindness. (Read related article: Grow your beard to fight cancer)

The WHO warned that the risk of developing high blood pressure and its serious consequences can be minimized by cutting down on salt and fat, eating a balanced diet, avoiding tobacco and the harmful use of alcohol and getting regular exercise.

A policy environment that reinforces a healthy lifestyle is crucial in efforts to combat hypertension, the WHO suggested.

“Public health policy needs to address high blood pressure,” Shin said. “If it doesn’t then we won’t be able to adequately address the epidemic of non-communicable diseases,” Shin said.

Can PNoy quit smoking?

While the WHO lauds Aquino’s “exemplary leadership in public health” because of the enactment of important measures like the reproductive health and sin tax laws, there are advocates who believe leaders should walk the talk.

“The problem is with the enforcement of smoke-free-environment laws — no matter how good these are. How do we tell young people not to smoke when the prime minister smokes, the health minister smokes, the university president smokes?” an advocate from the University of California in San Diego pointed out.

The advocate was among the 2,500 experts of tobacco control who gathered in 2012 in Singapore to share ways to combat attempts by the tobacco industry at influencing policy making in some 20 countries.

In a discussion among health ministers and ambassadors moderated by WHO Director General Margaret Chan, another participant suggested, “Can presidents stand up to say, ‘I’ve quit smoking, follow me?’ We need leadership in every country.”

Aquino said he would avoid lighting a stick in public places, but the award he will receive will likely put the spotlight on his lifestyle yet again. –



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