Filipino 'shortness' more than just a 'racial trait' – report
MANILA, Philippines – With an average height of 5'3" for men and 4"11' for women, are Filipinos really just "genetically" short?
According to a recent Save the Children report, shortness may be more than just a "racial trait".
“The assumption has always been that Filipinos are just genetically short,” Dr Amado Parawan, Save the Children’s Health and Nutrition advisor, explained. “What we actually see now are generations of stunted and malnourished children.”
Stunted growth is evident when children are too short for their age based on the World Health Organization’s child growth. It is also a sign of chronic malnutrition. (READ: Why you should care about stunting)
Despite Filipinos being the second shortest with below-average height in the ASEAN region, the lack of height is still seen as a "surface problem" only.
“Shortness is considered by many as a racial trait, it is not seen as a serious concern,” Parawan added.
Stunting in the Philippines
Despite perceived economic growth, poverty and malnutrition rates remain constant.
National Nutrition Survey results show there is no significant change in stunting in the Philippines. The rate of stunted children only went down by 9% in 20 years – 1993’s 39% to 30% in 2013.
In fact, there was only a .3% improvement between 2011 and 2013. The Philippines is also among the 14 countries which have 80% of the world’s stunted children.
This is why, Parawan emphasized, inter-generational malnutrition and poverty has partly led to the lack of height among Filipinos. (READ: Ending the cycle of malnutrition)
“We have not done so much to correct or end stunting,” Parawan said. “We should prioritize chronic child malnutrition because stunting is one of its forms.”
Aside from shortness of height, stunting may also affect a child’s future as it hinders physical and mental growth. His survival may also be put at risk as 45% of child deaths globally are due to malnutrition.
The first 1,000 days of a child – from conception to 2 years of age – should be prioritized. Called the windows of opportunity, the period is the best time to put pregnant women and children under the best care available to improve their chances for a better future. (READ: Lifesaving 6: Saving mothers and children from malnutrition)
The lack of proper care within this period may result in irreversible effects.
“We have to maximize everything,” Parawan said. “We have to come up with strategies and programs so we can take advantage of the windows of opportunity and I know we can do a lot during the first 1,000 days.”
Investing on nutrition
Assistant Secretary of Health Gerardo Bayugo believes that despite improvements, the problem of child nutrition is still very significant. If this cannot be addressed, the future of the country may be compromised.
A World Bank study found out that for every 1% loss in adult height due to stunting, economic productivity decreases by 1.4%.
“Malnutrition has adversely affected labor force and productivity later in life,” he emphasized. “All these point to the same direction that if you care for this country, we must invest in the health and nutrition of our children because they are the future of the Philippines.”
However, ending child malnutrition is not only done through feeding programs. It needs close coordination among government agencies and other stakeholders to be effective, according to Parawan. (READ: 'Lahat Dapat': No child should be left malnourished)
“If we're going to solve the problem, everybody will have to work,” he said. “We have to get our acts together and involve all partners, all sectors to solve the problem of child malnutrition.” – Rappler.com
Do you think malnourishment is really a factor behind the shortness of Filipinos? Join the conversation using #HungerProject and tag @MovePH or @rapplerdotcom!