Combating malnutrition: The key to the Philippines’ long-term success

As the Philippines works to build on the positive momentum it has generated, the government has developed and committed to AmBisyon Natin 2040, a long-term vision guiding the country’s development plans. AmBisyon Natin 2040 promises a strongly rooted, comfortable, and secure life for every Filipino, where “no one is poor, no one is ever hungry."

In addition to AmBisyon Natin 2040, the government has also committed to the Sustainable Development Goals, which include eliminating poverty and hunger, promoting health and wellbeing, and securing access to safe drinking water.

With these development plans and goals providing the foundation for the government’s various medium- and long-term initiatives, it has become clear that ordinary citizens, members of the private sector, and the government need to invest in nutrition to secure a better future for the next generation.

The challenge of malnutrition

Poverty has deprived people of access to nutritious food and safe drinking water. Such abhorrent conditions have led to stunting and malnutrition, which has crippled generations of Filipinos. The Philippines missed its Millennium Development Goal of lowering the malnutrition rate to 15%, and the problem only appears to be getting worse.

Data from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute also shows that one in three Filipino children below five years old suffers from stunting, while one in five Filipino children is underweight. Among school-aged children aged five to 10 years old, 31% are underweight, another 31% are stunted, and 8.4% are wasted.

Between the ages of 5 to 10 years old, children have to learn basic mathematical, scientific, verbal, and even visual concepts. It is also during this time when parents teach them about healthy eating habits and the importance of exercise. Without proper nutrition, access to safe drinking water, and frequent exercise, the very act of learning becomes a burden to our future leaders and innovators.

 

The challenges that they experience in their childhood only compound as they grow older, particularly for those children who suffer from stunting. Existing literature from multilateral organizations note that children who suffer from stunting have lower chances of completing their education and becoming highly productive adults. 

If we do not give this problem the attention that it deserves, we risk losing an entire generation of children to stunting and undernutrition.

The next frontier

If we are to combat malnutrition, we need to think in terms of ecosystems. We need to bring together efforts from government, from NGOs and multilateral agencies, and from individuals. What kinds of practices can we share and to which communities? How do we go beyond feeding programs into equipping families with the knowledge and skills that they need in order to make healthier decisions?

How do we ensure that communities have access to both nutritious food and safe drinking water, even in times of disaster? How can technology drive access to food? What kind of investments will be needed in which communities to reduce the incidence of malnutrition?

These are just some of the questions that the government, private sector, and civil society will have to grapple with.

For us, the next frontier is not just in supporting these existing communities and finding new communities to tap for similar projects. It is also in taking a more active role, in building an ecosystem of people who share similar goals and have effective interventions, which would provide local government units with information on where malnutrition hotspots are, NGOs with information on which organizations are operating in a certain area, and individuals and businesses with opportunities to volunteer and donate on a consistent basis in order to make an impact.

Through our United for Healthier Kids program, we brought together various organizations who share the same goal of eradicating malnutrition in the Philippines and giving future generations a healthier start to a productive, prosperous life. These organizations have projects that fall under four key areas which we feel are critical to addressing, if not eradicating, malnutrition: access to food, nutrition education, nutrition in disaster, and water, sanitation, and hygiene.

It is also in encouraging people to pursue more focused actions to help reduce malnutrition. Through the program, we want to encourage people to either volunteer their time, donate money and/or resources, and share information on the issue of malnutrition and on the work of the United for Healthier Kids contributing NGOs. We believe that focused actions over a longer period would help create a bigger and more positive impact in a community, as opposed to drop-in-a-bucket efforts.

How can you help?

Now, more than ever, we need to support government, business, and civil society efforts to address malnutrition and reduce its incidence in our communities. We stand to risk our most important asset – the potential and talent of our people – if we let this problem remain unchecked.

One of the ways in which you can help is through signing up on the United for Healthier Kids website. You can volunteer for and donate to any of our eight contributing NGOs: Children’s Hour, Children’s Joy Foundation, Children’s Mission, Philippine Red Cross, Project PEARLS, Reach Out and Feed Philippines, Waves for Water, and Virlanie Foundation.

If you work for a corporation or a multinational company or if you own a business, we would also be interested in linking you with our contributing NGOs so that you can support their efforts and start a larger and longer-term volunteer and/or donation campaign with the communities where you live and work.

Malnutrition may appear to be an insurmountable problem, but with your help, we can bring this issue to the forefront and assist the organizations already working to address this issue. We encourage more individuals and businesses to join us in this endeavor. We hope that in doing so, we can finally win the war against malnutrition and set up future generations for a healthier, happier future. 

Paolo Mercado is the Senior Vice President for Marketing, Communication, and Innovation at Nestlé Philippines, Inc. For more information on U4HK, please visit www.u4hk.ph