Nutrition and health services have yet to be delivered by the government to at least 90 percent of its target families to curb the rate of malnutrition in the country, the National Nutrition Council (NNC) said on Thursday.
“At least 90% of the target families have yet to be reached by the critical health and nutrition services to hasten the decline of malnutrition,” NNC executive Director Dr. Azucena Dayanghirang said at the Laging Handa briefing on Thursday ahead of the National Nutrition Month.
The main causes of malnutrition include the lack of proper food for the family; wrong behaviors of the family, including neglect of sanitation and hygiene; lack of knowledge in feeding children; and not having a balanced meal, the NNC official said.
This developed as Senator Risa Hontiveros called on the government to nourish Filipino children during their first 1,000 days of life, especially amid the pandemic, calling it “actually a life-long investment.”
Hontiveros said the World Bank recently put the Philippines on notice, because for nearly 30 years, some Filipino children are still starving.
A 2017 report from UNICEF had previously estimated that the total cost to the Philippine economy brought by childhood undernutrition was around $1.4 billion, or 1.5% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
“This is why we cannot continue missing the unique window of opportunity presented to us by the first 1,000 days of a child’s life,” she said.
The senator issued the statement in time for Nutrition Month, which has the national theme, “Malnutrisyon Patuloy na Labanan, First 1000 Days Tutukan!”
Hontiveros sponsored and co-authored Republic Act 11148 or the “Kalusugan at Nutrisyon ng Mag-Nanay Act,” which emphasizes the importance of proper nutrition during the first two years of a child’s life.
Dayanghirang said local government units should be encouraged to give priority to nutrition in their local development and investment plans, in accordance with the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN).
She said the condition of children in terms of nutrition has improved in the past years, where Vitamin A deficiency, iron deficiency (anemia), and iron deficiency disorders in children have declined.
However, Dayanghirang cited data that 30.3 percent or 3.4 million children of 5 years old and below were found to be stunted.
“It already declined, but the rate rose again this 2020),” she said.
Nearly three out of ten Filipinos aged five-years-old and below are stunted because of undernutrition, a World Bank report noted.
Hontiveros thus called on all government agencies to protect a child’s right to nutrition, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, the country ranks fifth in the region with the highest prevalence of stunting and is among the top 10 countries globally with the highest number of stunted children, according to UNICEF.
According to the opposition senator, focusing more resources on the “crucial nutritional window” is an opportunity to end intergenerational malnutrition and undernutrition.
The World Bank study showed that for every $1 invested in nutrition specific interventions, this could lead to a potential return of $44.
The senator, however, lamented that the NNC, the country’s primary policy-making and coordinating body on nutrition, was given only P488 million in the 2021 budget.
While this is higher than the P461 million it received in 2019, the amount is still insufficient for the nutrition programs needed to stamp out malnutrition and undernutrition in the country, she noted.
She said the magnitude of future social and economic losses because of undernutrition should be enough reason for the government to start spending more on our children’s nutrition in the first 1,000 days.
“Hindi naibabalik ang panahon,” Hontiveros added.