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SMASHED: Changing the way we talk about underaged drinking

Smashed, which was launched in the Philippines through a collaboration between Diageo Philippines and PETA Plus in partnership with UK-based company Collingwood Learning. It is a groundbreaking global program that is a pillar of Diageo’s Society 2030: Spirit of Progress commitment to tackle underage drinking.

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Every parent knows you can shout at the top of your voice until you’re blue in the face, but you can’t always make children listen. Especially if what you are shouting about is something that is potentially dangerous, but their peers more commonly believe is “cool”.

It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, it doesn’t matter if you have their best interests at heart, it doesn’t matter that you might have lived through the very same thing that they are and are trying to help them not make your mistakes. After kids hit a certain age, adults become the enemy.

So how do you get an important message through to adolescents? By using one of the most powerful communication tools known to man: storytelling.

Neil Gaiman, wildly successful author and graphic novelist, tells us that stories “teach us how the world is put together and the rules of living in the world, and they come in an attractive enough package that we take pleasure from them and want to help them propagate.”

Invention born of necessity

It is given that youths of today will experiment with many things as they grow older, regardless of the environment and socio-economic conditions they grew up in.

Unfortunately, this means that the vast majority of young people all across the world will come across the chance to sample substances: nicotine, alcohol, or even illegal drugs.

Smashed, which was launched in the Philippines through a collaboration between Diageo Philippines and PETA Plus in partnership with UK-based company Collingwood Learning. It is a groundbreaking global program that is a pillar of Diageo’s Society 2030: Spirit of Progress commitment to tackle underage drinking.

Chris Simes, the Managing Director for Collingwood Learning, recognizes that in order to nip the problem in the bud, one has to take a completely different approach other than lecturing the youth. “This is a real change from the usual approach to alcohol education in schools and one that makes the risks of underage drinking impossible to forget. We understand that because of the pandemic, both teachers and students are still adjusting to the current normal. But we want to help carry the learning forward by providing high-quality teaching resources for use, despite the pandemic. We’re thrilled to be working with PETA Plus and the Department of Education in the Philippines to produce new innovative online learning solutions to supplement the highly successful live approach.”

Inevitably, kids who start drinking at an early age do not have minds and bodies that are able to process alcoholic beverages. They get lured into it by seeing it as a rite of passage, a means of escape, or a social requirement.

On its second run, Smashed utilizes a novel approach, with additional features designed for more interaction with its target audience.

Conceptualized during the time when education was adapting to the new constraints of being unable to hold physical classes, the Smashed Philippine project initially launched in September 2021. It was an interactive website (online.smashedproject.org) that sought to empower Filipino teens and preteens to make better choices by harnessing their critical thinking skills.

Smashed utilized an online platform featuring a gripping story with three main characters and even has a feature that makes the viewer feel like they are actually on video calls with the characters as they follow along.

What’s the problem?

It’s easy to ignore a problem you don’t see. Teens learn how to drink from adults. They think it’s okay because they see it everyday, and sometimes, they are even encouraged to drink, especially males. Adults will sometimes allow their children to drink inside their homes with their friends because it is ‘safer’, saying, “mas okay nang dito ka mag-inom sa bahay kesa sa labas”.

But the Philippines does have an underage drinking culture. If you’re ever in doubt about this fact, just ask the kids.

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Ashley Mae Torres, a tenth-grade student from Quirino High School, points out, “Bilang kabataan, mas marami akong nakikitang proud maging alcoholic.” That’s a worrying statement indeed, but she also credits Smashed, seeing the potential good in the program. “Salamat at dahil sa Smashed mas lumawak ang aking kaalaman sa mga panganib ng alcohol,” says Ashley. “Mas magandang piliin ang tama kasya sa udyok ng ibang tao.”

The Philippines, which has a thriving drinking culture, reports that 70% of the population has consumed alcohol before the age of 14, despite it being illegal for stores and restaurants to sell or serve the substance to minors. This could be a problem.

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Sometimes the adults in the lives of young drinkers are the problem. In a scathing insight, the winner of the Smashed essay writing contest notes, “Ang problem po sa underage drinking sa bansa natin ay ine-encourage pa ng ibang family na ‘uy uminom ka’. Diyan din ako nagsimula ayaw ko pang uminom pero kinalaunan umiinom na rin ako tapos na-enjoy ko na rin.” Angel Borda, from Don Alejandro Roces Sr. Science-Technology High School emphasizes that the relatability of the situations of the characters was especially helpful in this case. “Pero ‘yun po yung mali talaga. We have to break that mindset. Napansin ko po yung kay Miko and kay Jella na yung pinagdadaanan po nila sa buhay nila, sa personal life nila is yun po yung ineexplain po nun kung bakit sila may addiction sa drinking pero it’s not an excuse sa behavior na pinapakita nila. Yung pagiging iresponsable nila, yung kawalan nila ng respeto sa ibang tao, kumbaga hindi sila main character sa buhay na ito at hindi lang sila ang maapektuhan sa buhay na ginagawa nila.”

The American-based National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) has published research that has found that those who get into the habit of alcohol consumption earlier in life may suffer more from it than those who learn to drink at an appropriate age. It states that “youthful patterns of alcohol use can mark the start of a developmental pathway that may lead to abuse and dependence”, and that continued drinking may lead to physiological reactions, such as depression or anxiety disorders, triggering an even greater reliance on the substance to alleviate the symptoms of these disorders. That’s already discounting the immediate effects of alcohol on young minds, which could lead to poor decision-making, patterns of antisocial behavior, and impaired motor skills. Finally, there is also the detrimental effect of extensive alcohol exposure on developing vital organs such as the liver and brain.

Lofty goals and marked successes

During its initial rollout in the Philippines in 2021, Smashed was supported by 120 schools in 17 regions and managed to get up in front of an audience of 17,700 young people. With the Department of Education and other academic institutions serving as partners, Smashed Online was able to equip educators and young leaders with workshops and training.

For 2023, the program’s goal is to be able to get its message through to over 25,000 students, partnering with schools and educators all over the Philippines. It is the program’s target to reach 300,000 Filipino youths by 2030 by working in close collaboration with the Department of Education.

“We are proud to support an important program to address the dangers associated with underage drinking like Smashed in the Philippines. This is part of our Society 2030: Spirit of Progress at Diageo, and we are confident that we can make a positive impact with the Filipino youths in making informed choices about alcohol and combat alcohol related harm for generations to come”, comments Shanahan Chua, Corporate Relations Director of Diageo Philippines.

According to the Philippines’ Smashed Online project manager, Gold Villar-Lim, in 2022, 93% of the total participants surveyed reported a marked attitudinal change. “Overall, the project is not only a big step in advocating for alcohol education and youth empowerment, but also in promoting applied theater and drama-in-education as effective teaching tools in the Philippines,” says Villar-Lim.

It isn’t just about making a connection with the participants, either. Smashed tries to melt the resistance that most children seem to have towards reaching out to adults to help in case they find themselves in a sticky spot due to alcohol, especially their parents. And it seems that the message is getting through.

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Even educators are impressed. “Highly recommended talaga ang Smashed PH kasi na-to-touch niya yung mga buhay at talagang nangyayari araw araw sa mga mag-aaral, says Russel Radaza, a department head at President Sergio Osmeña High School Manila. “Mas maganda kung mas maraming schools ang ma-rereach out ng Smashed PH para sila ay mag-enjoy at mas matuto about alcoholic beverages.”

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This sentiment is echoed by Jennifer Rances, a teacher at Sipocot National High School in Camarines Sur. Sa akin naman, talagang napakalaking tulong po nito na sa mga young learners lalo na ngayon iba na ang gusto nilang gawin hindi na sila nakafocus,” she says, emphasizing the lack of connection between a child’s attention span and traditional methods of education. She goes on to stress that “with these kinds of projects, talagang magiging focus nila ay […] ano ba talaga yung nangyayari sa society at ano ba talaga yung realidad. With this kind of project that Smashed Ph has, talagang sa tingin ko sobrang positive ako na madedevelop ang mga bata rito. Lahat madedevelop including their skills, pati yung mga talents nila at yung focus din even leadership skills.”

Could this change in the approach to the conversation create lasting effects in the way we approach underage drinking? Will it create deliberate and productive conversations between children at risk and the adults who are in the position to guide them? Evidence points to the possibility of both, and although only time will tell, Smashed Ph is definitely taking the necessary steps in the right direction.

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NewsMakers

FWD partners with GCash to provide protection against BIG 3 critical illnesses

FWD Life Insurance (FWD Philippines) has partnered with GCash, the Philippines’ leading finance super app and biggest cashless ecosystem, to encourage more Filipinos to get coverage against the three major critical illnesses in the country.

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FWD Life Insurance (FWD Philippines) has partnered with GCash, the Philippines’ leading finance super app and biggest cashless ecosystem, to encourage more Filipinos to get coverage against the three major critical illnesses in the country.

To make health protection easily accessible, FWD’s BIG 3 Critical Illness Insurance is now available for purchase by GCash users through its GInsure feature for as low as PhP298 per year.“We’re optimistic that this seamless and innovative partnership with GCash can inspire and drive more young Filipinos to become protected,” says FWD Philippines Chief Partnership Officer Irene Andas during the contract signing.

Through this partnership, FWD Philippines aims to foster a sense of trust and reliability among Filipino digital natives who primarily use GCash for their financial needs and provide accessible protection against the most critical illnesses.

Bridging the insurance gap with affordable and accessible health coverage

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the leading causes of death for Filipinos in 2023 are heart attack (19.3%), cancer (10.4%), and stroke (10.3%).

This is significantly more concerning as a nationwide survey reveals that three out of five Filipinos lack medical insurance, indicating that most Filipinos do not get medical insurance primarily because they can’t afford it (63%). Meanwhile, 30% of Filipinos rely on government’s health programs, 22% are deterred by the limited coverage and exclusions, and 15% are not aware or don’t fully understand the available insurance options.

“Most young Filipinos today do not have protection against these illnesses, especially since they can happen unexpectedly,” shares FWD Philippines Chief Marketing and Digital Business Officer Roche Vandenberghe. “However, we hope that by making this plan available via GCash, we can bridge the protection gap and make it easier for them to become prepared for such challenges.”

GCash Vice President and Group Head of New Businesses Winsley Bangit also expressed high hopes for the partnership. “We share FWD’s commitment to help more Filipinos especially when it comes to health and financial protection,” says Mr. Bangit. “With just a few taps, one can now get year-long protection against these top three illnesses.”

Easy cover for heart attack, cancer, and stroke

BIG 3 Critical Illness Insurance offers health coverage that is easy on the pocket, easy to buy, and easy to claim against the top three critical illnesses: heart attack, stroke, and early- to late-stage cancer.

Once availed, policyholders will be receiving exclusive e-gift vouchers worth PhP100 via Giftaway and claim 20 days after purchasing the policy. Customers may avail themselves of multiple policies with critical illness coverage of up to a maximum of PhP2 million.

Vandenberghe further emphasizes that this collaboration with GCash is a milestone for FWD as it celebrates its 10th year in the Philippines in 2024. “FWD continues to contribute to nation-building by empowering the next generation with more affordable insurance and protecting themselves and their loved ones.”

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NewsMakers

Pru Life UK agents, customers, executives celebrate Year of the Wood Dragon

The insurer maintains its top position in New Business Annual Premium Equivalent & total Premium Income from Variable Life Insurance products according to the Insurance Commission’s Life Insurance Sector Quarterly Statistics for Q3 2023.

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With a strengthened commitment to providing better financial protection for every Filipino, Pru Life UK celebrates the start of the Year of the Wood Dragon. Over 200 Pru Life UK leaders, agents, clients, and employees joined and wished everyone PRU Love during the festivities held at the heart of its Escolta branch in Binondo Manila.

The insurer maintains its top position in New Business Annual Premium Equivalent & total Premium Income from Variable Life Insurance products according to the Insurance Commission’s Life Insurance Sector Quarterly Statistics for Q3 2023.

Pru Life UK’s products are made accessible through its over 42,000 digitally-empowered agency workforce and like-minded partners.

The Company recently launched PRULove for Life – an affordable, limited-pay, whole-life participating plan for as low as Php 87 per day* with lifetime coverage up to age 100 and flexible payment terms of 5, 10, 15, or 20 years to pay. To know more about PRULove for Life, talk to your Pru Life UK agent today or visit Pru Life UK’s website.

Pru Life UK is also committed to driving up financial awareness, literacy, and inclusion in the country by leading industry discussions and programs for the community. Its PRUBabies campaign seeks to protect 175,000 newborns with free insurance coverage against select infectious diseases such as Dengue, Typhoid, Measles, and Malaria.

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Eating too much protein is bad for your arteries, and this amino acid is to blame

Consuming over 22% of dietary calories from protein can lead to increased activation of immune cells that play a role in atherosclerotic plaque formation, driving the disease risk.

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University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers discovered a molecular mechanism by which excessive dietary protein could increase atherosclerosis risk. The findings were published in Nature Metabolism.

The study, which combined small human trials with experiments in mice and cells in a Petri dish, showed that consuming over 22% of dietary calories from protein can lead to increased activation of immune cells that play a role in atherosclerotic plaque formation, driving the disease risk. Furthermore, the scientists showed that one amino acid – leucine – seems to have a disproportionate role in driving the pathological pathways linked to atherosclerosis, or stiff, hardened arteries.

“Our study shows that dialing up your protein intake in pursuit of better metabolic health is not a panacea. You could be doing real damage to your arteries,” said senior and co-corresponding author Babak Razani, M.D., Ph.D., professor of cardiology at Pitt. “Our hope is that this research starts a conversation about ways of modifying diets in a precise manner that can influence body function at a molecular level and dampen disease risks.”

According to a survey of an average American diet over the last decade, Americans generally consume a lot of protein, mostly from animal sources. Further, nearly a quarter of the population receives over 22% of all daily calories from protein alone.

That trend is likely driven by the popular idea that dietary protein is essential to healthy living, says Razani. But his and other groups have shown that overreliance on protein may not be such a good thing for long-term health.

Following their 2020 research, in which Razani’s laboratory first showed that excess dietary protein increases atherosclerosis risk in mice, his next study in collaboration with Bettina Mittendorfer, Ph.D., a metabolism expert at the University of Missouri, Columbia, delved deeper into the potential mechanism and its relevance to the human body.

To arrive at the answer, Razani’s laboratory, led by first-authors Xiangyu Zhang, Ph.D., and Divya Kapoor, M.D., teamed up with Mittendorfer’s group to combine their expertise in cellular biology and metabolism and perform a series of experiments across various models – from cells to mice to humans.

“We have shown in our mechanistic studies that amino acids, which are really the building blocks of the protein, can trigger disease through specific signaling mechanisms and then also alter the metabolism of these cells,” Mittendorfer said. “For instance, small immune cells in the vasculature called macrophages can trigger the development of atherosclerosis.”

Based on initial experiments in healthy human subjects to determine the timeline of immune cell activation following ingestion of protein-enriched meals, the researchers simulated similar conditions in mice and in human macrophages, immune cells that are shown to be particularly sensitive to amino acids derived from protein.

Their work showed that consuming more than 22% of daily dietary calories through protein can negatively affect macrophages that are responsible for clearing out cellular debris, leading to the accumulation of a “graveyard” of those cells inside the vessel walls and worsening of atherosclerotic plaques overtime. Interestingly, the analysis of circulating amino acids showed that leucine – an amino acid enriched in animal-derived foods like beef, eggs and milk – is primarily responsible for abnormal macrophage activation and atherosclerosis risk, suggesting a potential avenue for further research on personalized diet modification, or “precision nutrition.”

Razani is careful to note that many questions remain to be answered, mainly: What happens when a person consumes between 15% of daily calories from protein as recommended by the USDA and 22% of daily calories from protein, and if there is a ‘sweet spot’ for maximizing the benefits of protein – such as muscle gain – while avoiding kick-starting a molecular cascade of damaging events leading to cardiovascular disease.

The findings are particularly relevant in hospital settings, where nutritionists often recommend protein-rich foods for the sickest patients to preserve muscle mass and strength.

“Perhaps blindly increasing protein load is wrong,” Razani said. “Instead, it’s important to look at the diet as a whole and suggest balanced meals that won’t inadvertently exacerbate cardiovascular conditions, especially in people at risk of heart disease and vessel disorders.”

Razani also notes that these findings suggest differences in leucine levels between diets enriched in plant and animal protein might explain the differences in their effect on cardiovascular and metabolic health. “The potential for this type of mechanistic research to inform future dietary guidelines is quite exciting,” he said.

Additional authors of the study are Yu-Sheng Yeh, Ph.D., also from Pitt; Alan Fappi, Ph.D. and Vasavi Shabrish, Ph.D., both of the University of Missouri, Columbia; Se-Jin Jeong, Ph.D., Jeremiah Stitham, M.D., Ph.D., Ismail Sergin, Ph.D., Eman Yousif, M.D., Astrid Rodriguez-Velez, Ph.D., Arick Park, M.D., Ph.D., Joel Schilling, M.D., Ph.D., Marco Sardiello, Ph.D., Abhinav Diwan, M.D., Nathan Stitziel, M.D., Ph.D., Ali Javaheri, M.D., Ph.D., Irfan Lodhi, Ph.D., and Jaehyung Cho, Ph.D., all of Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis; Arif Yurdagul Jr, Ph.D., and Oren Rom, Ph.D., both of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center; and Slava Epelman, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Toronto.

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