Researchers from the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) recently released the results of their study on rice consumption, which revealed that Filipinos remain partial to consuming polished rice (See, “Filipinos remain partial to high-GI polished rice—PhilRice study,” in the BusinessMirror, August 30, 2021). Consumers want to eat white rice even if they are aware of the fact that this is a high-glycemic index food. The consumption of high-GI food is associated with increased risk of diabetes, the fourth leading cause of death last year, according to the latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
GI is a value assigned to foods based on how slowly or how quickly those foods cause increases in blood glucose levels. PhilRice, an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture, noted that Filipino consumers have a high level of awareness on the benefits of consuming low-GI rice. Results of the survey also indicated that respondents in all 17 regions in the country reported a high level of awareness on the benefits of consuming low-GI rice.
Rice is a staple food of Filipinos and it is usually consumed three times a day, seven days a week. The amount of rice consumed by Filipinos varies and depends on their socioeconomic status. Those who belong to the so-called bottom 30 percent of the population eat more rice, as they cannot afford to purchase other sources of energy, such as meat products, which have become more expensive, according to the latest inflation data released by the PSA.
Because of this, the government is promoting the consumption of low-GI rice, such as brown rice, as a cost-effective intervention to reduce the risk of developing diabetes mellitus. However, despite their awareness of the benefits of consuming low-GI rice, 75 percent of respondents still eat white rice twice a day, PhilRice said. This may have confounded PhilRice researchers as the respondents cited nutritional value, along with taste and satiety, as primary considerations when buying food.
Even before the release of the results of the PhilRice study, the government has been encouraging Filipinos to eat brown rice through a number of programs and initiatives. In fact, prior to the rice trade liberalization law, which disallowed the National Food Authority to sell rice, the government rolled out a program that allowed consumers to buy cheaper brown rice. PhilRice had partnered with the NFA in 2016 to launch the BROWN4good project, which will ensure the availability of quality and low-cost brown rice in NFA retail stores.
Under the BROWN4good project, the government sold unpolished rice for P37 per kilogram, lower than the prevailing price of P50 to P80 per kilogram at the time. We urge PhilRice and other relevant government agencies to look into the impact of this project on brown rice consumption and find out how the project can be tweaked given the fact that NFA could no longer sell rice to the public. Intensifying a campaign that promotes the consumption of low-GI rice is not enough and will be unsuccessful if the healthy product is not accessible to consumers.