At least P328 billion is lost to the Philippine economy every year due to malnutrition, experts said Tuesday, a severe scenario that they said should be devoted “as much effort” as the government spends on its war against drugs.
Aid agency Save the Children told a press briefing at the Bayleaf Hotel in Manila on Tuesday that P166.5 billion in income is lost due to low level of education of the workforce because of childhood stunting.
Productivity cut due to premature deaths costs P160 billion, while another P1.23 billion is wasted for additional expenditures on education.
“This proves that undernutrition has a cost to all of us,” said Ned Olney, country director of Save the Children. “In just a year, the Philippines has lost almost 3 percent of its [Gross Domestic Product] in terms of education and productivity costs due to stunting.”
“If we add up health costs, the likely impact would be an additional 0.05-1.6 percent,” he added.
In its report entitled “Cost of Hunger: Philippines,” the group said stunting is a condition among children that indicates chronic malnutrition. In 2015, 48,597 or 15 percent of around 330,000 grade repetitions is blamed to this case.
Olney noted that in just a year, the country has lost almost three percent of its GDP in terms of education and productivity costs due to stunting. If we add up health costs, the likely impact would be an additional 0.05 percent to 1.6 percent.
He said the report shows that stunting is the best predictor of productivity and income, and that undernutrition is linked to lower human capital.
“Children who are stunted in the first two years of life are more likely to repeat grade levels, drop out of school, delay school entry and have lower income levels when they enter the workforce,” said Olney.
“If stunting rates continue to rise, it would be difficult for families to break free from poverty. It is the poor and neglected sectors of society that carry the burden of stunting. Any investment in reducing childhood undernutrition will reduce suffering and poverty, and will ultimately stimulate economic growth for all Filipinos,” he explained.
Citing the report findings, Save the Children highlighted the need to invest in nutrition programs during the child’s first 1,000 days, from pregnancy up to the second birthday, which is considered a critical period of care to avert stunting.
Olney further stated that nutrition is the cornerstone of all development efforts.
Meanwhile, 21.5 percent of Filipino children are underweight, higher than 19.9 percent in 2013, while 7.1 percent under the age of five have wasting or are too thin for their height.
“This new report tells us that for every US$1 spent on programs to avert stunting in children below two years old, the Philippines could save over 100 US dollars in health, education, and lost productivity costs. It should outrage us that 95 children will die every day because of malnutrition,” added Olney.
To date, only 0.5 percent of the national budget is allocated for nutrition, a small chunk that is four times less than in other countries.
“Illegal drug use is an important matter, but this problem of malnutrition also requires as much effort,” said Dr. Cecilia Acuin, Chief Science Research Specialist at the Food and Nutrition Research Institute.
“The consequences are borne by everybody [so] there is really an urgency to get something done” Acuin added.
“It is a shockingly large number of children. We’re seeing that now, especially in Metro Manila,” Acuin said. “Children who suffer from malnutrition fail to reach their full potential, both physically and mentally.”
Experts also explained that stunting might have been the long-term cause of the average height among Filipinos, noting that more than half of the country’s labor force suffered from undernutrition in their youth.
“Filipinos are not genetically short. What we see now is most likely a generation of stunted population,” Acuin said.
But on battling this health issue, physicians noted that there is no single bullet that can kill malnutrition in the country.
“It cannot be just the [effort of the] health sector. This has to be a whole society approach,” Acuin said.
Early this year, Save the Children launched a Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) project, which aims to treat and rehabilitate children with severe and moderate acute malnutrition in an urban setting. This is the first ever CMAM project to be implemented in Metro Manila as previous government and multi-sector efforts were done in Visayas and Mindanao.