State of PH nutrition: The last 5 years

Jodesz Gavilan
State of PH nutrition: The last 5 years
Government should focus on the nutrition of the next generation

MANILA, Philippines – During his last State of the Nation Address on Monday, July 27, President Benigno Aquino III failed to discuss an important facet of the country’s health: nutrition.

His over-two-hour speech failed to tackle how the Philippines has fared in its fight against malnutrition under his administration, among many other issues. (READ: What Aquino failed to mention in his 2015 SONA)

This is actually a critical time for the country as the deadline for meeting targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) set by the United Nations nears. The country was expected to work overtime in 2010 to 2014 to hit the targets – specifically those related to nutrition:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Reduce child mortality

These targets are interconnected as one affects the other. If you reduce the problem of poverty and hunger, it is highly probable that child mortality will be reduced.

Malnutrition has caused many deaths of children under 5 years old. The health risks which are rooted in the effects of not having the right nutrients in the body are too much for a child to handle. (READ: Lend a hand: Help kids reach their 5th birthday)

In some cases, if these risks are not fatal, they will still carry effects – irreversible, unfortunately – through adulthood. This may hinder them from attaining their maximum potential in life.

Varying covered population

The Operation Timbang Plus (OTP) of the National Nutrition Council (NNC) is a yearly operation where pre-schoolers aged 0 to 71 months old or below 6 years old are weighed. This is to identify and target the malnourished children in each community or area. (READ: Who is on top of nutrition?)

The results of OTP are used in the planning of local nutrition council. This paves way for much needed prioritization – especially budget appropriation and interventions – in areas with a high prevalence of malnutrition.

NNC strives to cover all children who fit in the age gap, but based on OTP results collected by Rappler, the total number of screened children under 6 years old varies from year to year.

(Note: Hover over the charts in this story to see the value of each category.)

Indicated in the data are reasons behind this, including areas with no submitted report or no activity done due to “instability” – such as in 2010 in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). (READ: How conflict can lead to food insecurity and hunger)

Decreasing trend?

According to OTP results, the prevalence of underweight and severely underweight children under 6 years old is on a downward trend in the last 5 years – save for a significant increase in 2012.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines “underweight” as having body weight that is too low to be healthy. These are usually 15% to 20% below what is normal for the age and height of a child based on his or her Body Mass Index.

In 2010, the prevalence of underweight children under 5 years old was at 6.43%, while severely underweight stood at 1.35%.

After 5 years, the prevalence of underweight children went down to 5.04% in 2014. Severely underweight children meanwhile increased to 1.48% – only .13% higher than in 2010.

The prevalence of severely underweight children, however, has remained steady in the last 5 years. It never reached the 2% mark but never decreased to less than 1%.

The bulk of malnourished children during the 5-year period are those underweight. In addition, there is a big difference between the number of underweight and severely underweight children, based on OTP results.

According to the latest OTP results, there are 443,883 underweight and 130,636 severely underweight children under 6 years old in 2014. This means that out of the total 8,808,792 children screened, 574,519 are suffering from undernourishment.

These are the top 10 provinces with the most number of undernourished children:

PROVINCE NUMBER OF UNDERNOURISHED CHILDREN UNDER 6
Metro Manila 40,751
Camarines Sur 32,860
Quezon 24,610
Cebu 22,187

Iloilo 17,038
Masbate 17,029
Leyte 14,322
Albay 12,986
Isabela 12,479
Palawan 12,357

Despite the relatively decreased number, it is still high compared to other countries in Southeast Asia. And while the number of hungry Filipinos hit an all time low in 10 years, it still took 10 years to achieve this.

Legislations needed

The fight against malnutrition is a collaborative effort. Different government agencies have been working to eradicate this problem.

Since 2010, the Department of Education’s School-Based Feeding Program (SBFF) has been trying to fix the problem of lack of nutrients and hungry children in schools. However, budget constraints limit the coverage of this program.

In the Senate, meanwhile, nutrition has become a “topic of interest” recently due to the many bills filed aiming for good nutrition.

Some files have sought to address these budget issues. Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara’s Child Nutrition Act aims to institutionalize feeding programs in school so that funds are allocated appropriately.

He has also called for a Senate inquiry to tackle the “unchanging” patterns of malnutrition that burden Filipinos, especially children. He also urged several stakeholders from different sectors, including businesses and manufacturers, to determine what steps to take to address food insecurity. (READ: Angara calls for Senate inquiry vs food insecurity and malnutrition)

Meanwhile, Senator Grace Poe through her Sustansya Para sa Batang Pilipino Act, seeks to answer the problem by giving complete lunch meals to all public elementary students. Just like Angara’s bill, this also aims to further enhance and institutionalize government feeding programs.

Senator Ralph Recto, on the other hand, urges the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to tap a chunk of the budget of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) to feed school children.

Time will tell if these actions will further improve the true state of the nation’s nutrition. – Rappler.com

Ending hunger and malnutrition is part of the 17 Global Goals and an important issue #PHVote 2016 aspirants should tackle! How can the Philippines achieve this by 2030? Join the conversation at Rappler’s Innovation +Social Good! Register here.

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.