Latest PH Nutrition Survey reveals little progress in beating hunger

Fritzie Rodriguez
Latest PH Nutrition Survey reveals little progress in beating hunger
The 2013 National Nutrition Survey reveals how far the Philippines has gone in its fight against hunger

 

MANILA, Philippines – Not much has changed in the nutritional status of Filipino children in the past 5 years, the latest National Nutrition Survey (NNS) revealed.

The results of the 8th NNS was released by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST) in time for this year’s national nutrition month.

The number of Filipino children aged 0-5 who are “wasted” – too thin for their height – even increased from 6.9% in 2008 to 7.9% in 2013.

Slight improvements, however, were observed among “stunted” – too short for their age – and underweight children.

Aged 0-5
Prevalance of underweight children
2008 2013
20.7% 19.8%
Prevalance of stunting 
2008 2013
32.3% 30.3%

 

“Bahagya ang pagbaba [ng underweight], ‘di ganun kalakihan. The trend is very small,” Mario Capanzana, FNRI Director, said. (The decrease is only slight, not that big.)

Topping the list of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is halving the number of underweight children under age 5. In the Philippines, the goal is to bring it down to at least 13.6% by 2015.

This age group marks a crucial stage for mental and physical development. Poor nutrition during this period can have irreversible health impacts which may extend into adulthood. 

“If we project the results to our MDG target, theoretically, if we really work hard, it’s still difficult to achieve the target. When we look at our programs, we’re doing something, but it’s still not enough to meet the MDGs,” Capanzana added.

Bicol, Eastern Visayas, and the Zamboanga Peninsula had higher prevalence of both stunted and underweight children aged 0-5 than the national average, FNRI reported. 

Meanwhile, children aged 5-10 showed better progress. There was a decrease in the prevalence in both stunting and underweight.

Teens, poverty, education

In 2013, stunted Filipinos aged 10-19 decreased from 35.7% in 2011 to 31.5% in 2013.

Prevalence of wasted Filipinos aged 5-19, however, remained virtually unchanged.

5-19 year olds 10-19 year olds
2008 2013 2008 2013
8.1% 8.6% 12.4% 12.4%

 

As of 2013, majority of undernourished Filipino children belong to the poorest households, while overweight children mostly belong to the wealthiest families, FNRI reported.

Ensuring that all children graduate from elementary is another MDG the Philippines has lower chances of achieving by 2015, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board’s (NSCB) latest data.

As of 2012, the country’s primary completion rate is only 73.7%, according to NSCB. Poverty and poor nutrition are some of the factors related to school dropouts.

Wealth, health

The difference in the mean weight and height of the richest and poorest Filipinos is a story in itself.

The survey also compared the mean height and weight of adults in urban and rural areas; and found that the latter have a lower average. 

“Underweight cases are the highest in rural areas where there is food insecurity, poor access to health services, water and sanitation, and behavior-changing information,” explained Dr Francisca Cuevas, director for health and nutrition of Save the Children.

Roots

High poverty incidences reduce accessibility to nutrition,” said Dr Yvonnette Duque, Child wellbeing programming manager of World Vision.

Duque argued that many local government units (LGUs) do not allocate adequate budgets for nutrition programs. She also advised LGUs to create regular job positions for municipal nutrition action officers and barangay nutrition scholars.

Another problem is the “widespread practice and perception of feeding programs as a response to undernutrition, which is just, in fact, bandage solution,” she added.

She also blamed the media for “advertising products detrimental to nutrition” such as fast food, instant foods and drinks.

Meanwhile, international non-profit organization SOS Children’s Village criticized the government’s inaction. “We believe that the government’s lack of concrete policies addressing children’s health care is what impedes us in improving their situation,” said Maria Sarah Delos Santos, SOS national programme director. 

Overweight 

Ironically, the prevalence of overweight Filipino children aged 0-5 increased from 3.3% in 2008 to 5% in 2013. The number of overweight teenagers also increased.

It is important to take note that malnutrition refers to both undernutrition and being overweight. (READ: Obesity in developing countries)

Eating a lot does not equate to eating right, however. What matters is the kind of nutrition you are getting. (INFOGRAPHIC: Hidden hunger)

Obesity is linked to “a rise in cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes,” the World Health Organization warned.

WHO added that overweight women may experience more pregnancy complications, while those born to overweight mothers may be at higher risk of childhood obesity.

Pregnant

TEENAGE MOMS. 1 out of 3 Filipino mothers aged 20 and below are nutritionally-at-risk, according to the 2013 National Nutrition Survey. Graphic by Mara Mercado/Rappler.comThe prevalence of nutritionally-at-risk pregnant Filipinas in 2013 remained high at 24.8%; it barely changed in the past two years. Undernutrition among lactating mothers stood at 12.5%, which slightly increased in two years.

Teenage mothers are more likely to encounter problems, according to FNRI.

“Poor feeding practices and a relatively low prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding also contribute to malnutrition,” Cuevas said.

“Nutrition policies like the Milk Code should be strongly enforced from the national to the local levels, and during disasters and normal situations alike,” Duque added. (READ: Who’s violating the Milk Code?)

Cases of anemia, however, decreased among children and pregnant women. (INFOGRAPHIC: ABCs of nutrition and pregnancy

What now?

“If we look at the aggregation of the age, the underweight problem already begins when the child turns one year old. It’s better to focus on programs for children aged 0-2,” Capanzana suggested.

This includes programs for pregnant women too. 

This period – from pregnancy to birth to a child’s first 1,000 days – is dubbed as a “window for opportunity.” Many parents, unfortunately, do not realize this. 

Duque called on government agencies, NGOs, and the private sector to work together on nutrition. “There is an urgent need to agree on standard monitoring tools on nutrition initiatives as a country.”

Health promotion and education should also be prioritized, Cuevas suggested. Various NGOs like SOS agree that “local communities should be empowered and capacitated to be able to provide long-term and effective solutions to malnutrition.” (READ: Community-level approach)

Addressing the public’s lack of awareness can be an excellent first step in the country’s long battle against hunger. – Rappler.com

How can we help fight hunger, its causes, and effects? Report what your LGU is doing, recommend NGOs, or share creative solutions. Send your stories and ideas to move.ph@rappler.com. Be part of the #HungerProject.

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