When the Philippines took part in May Measurement Month campaign last May - a program whose aim was to screen millions of people globally at risk for hypertension - it was suspected that as many as 12 million Filipinos were hypertensive, half of whom were unaware their blood pressure was beyond normal levels.

The findings are again bolstered with the recent pronouncement of the Provincial Health Office in Siquijor that even high school students in the southernmost province of Central Visayas were already hypertensive.

According to Dr Josephine Bucol, Integrated Provincial Health Officer, hypertension has become the leading cause of morbidity in the island province. The health official, who spoke at the 43rd Nutrition Month Celebration in Larena town, was quoted by the Philippine Information Agency.

These findings make it even more imperative to ban unhealthy food and drinks - carbonated, sugary drinks and junk foods - in school canteens as has been ordered by the Department of Education.

Hypertension is a long-term condition where the blood pressure within the arteries is high. It does not produce symptoms, but is a major risk for life-threatening diseases such as stroke, heart failure, peripheral vascular diseases, vision loss and chronic kidney disease.

Lack of physical activity, unhealthy diet that is high in sodium, calories, fat and sugar, being overweight and drinking too much alcohol are among its important risk factors.

Beyond the DepEd directive, the Siquijor Provincial Health Office is mulling a resolution that would prevent fatty, salty and sugary foods and beverages from being sold in all school cafeterias provincewide.

At the same time, the provincial health office called for the adoption of a healthy diet, and a more active lifestyle, aside from having regular check-ups at Rural Health Units (RHUs) and availing of free medications to manage hypertension, if necessary.

“Self-discipline to stick with a healthy diet, regular check-up, and regular exercise are the significant keys to ageing gracefully and staying healthy,” Dr Bucol was quoted as saying.

Lack of awareness that an individual may already be hypertensive is as bad, if not worse, than having high blood pressure but not doing anything to manage the condition.

“This is what we call a walking time bomb... having unknown high blood pressure poses so much risk, that anytime, stroke or a heart attack may occur,” warned Secretary of Health Paulyn Ubial.

Hypertension and diabetes are the major risk factors in developing kidney failure. MIMS

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