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Despite its economic gains in recent years, the Philippines still has yet to fully address the problem of its malnourished children.
Roughly one in five children across the country are underweight for their age, according to data presented recently by experts from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
Results from a 2011 anthropomorphic study of Filipino children aged 0 to 6 years old show that 20.2% are underweight for their age, which is a sign that these children have suffered or are suffering from acute malnutrition. The same anthropomorphic study also showed that 7 out of 100 children of that age are wasting or underweight for their height. This means that these children suffer from chronic or long term malnutrition; and their numbers have been slowly rising since 2003.
This data was presented at the Nutricommnet Meeting and Media Forum held on September 19 at Lispher Inn in Davao City by Dr. Zenaida Narciso, Chief SRS, Technology Diffusion and Science and Technology Services Division (TDSTSD) of the DOST's Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI).
Millennium Development Goals
Malnutrition has lasting effects when it hits children at any point from birth to 6 years of age, a crucial period in child development. Malnutrition at this stage can cause stunting, impaired immunity, and hampered physical and mental development. These effects are reversible when malnutrition is treated immediately through supplemental feeding, but chronic malnutrition can become irreversible.
This is why reducing the prevalence of underweight children is such a significant Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for developing countries. The reduction of the prevalence of underweight children ages 0 to 6 from 27.3% to 13.6% by 2015 is one of the MDGs set for the Philippines.
Data from the FNRI initially estimated that the Philippines could easily achieve its goal if there was a steady annual reduction of prevalence by 1.65%, which was initially set at 27.3% in the early 1990’s. But there hasn’t been any significant reduction in the cases of underweight children since 2010, when the prevalence was at 20.7%. This leaves the Philippines less than 2 years to reduce the prevalence of underweight children by 7%, if they are to meet their goals.
The prevalence of wasting among children aged 0 to 5, an indicator of chronic malnutrition, is lower than that of acute malnutrition and is not considered as part of the MDGs. But the rising prevalence of wasted children in this critical ages points to the possibility that parents may not be aware or are uninformed of the symptoms and effects of chronic malnutrition.
Dr. Azucena Milano-Dayanghirang, the Provincial Health Officer for Davao del Sur, said it was fairly common for parents to dismiss the gravity of chronic malnutrition or to mistake it for a benign condition.
“Most parents think when their babies are chubby, they’re not malnourished,” she said. “What they don’t know is that kwashiokor, a severe form of malnutrition, can manifest as edema which might be mistaken for chubbiness or fat. Irritability, rashes, anorexia can all be indicators of malnutrition.“
Dr. Narciso also cited scenarios that may possibly explain the continued prevalence of malnutrition in the Philippines.
“We often see these cases of acute malnutrition in evacuation centers during calamities or in wars. The children either don’t get enough food to eat or are not given the right kind of food, which results in malnutrition. And when they’re forced to stay in evacuation centers for a long time, the situation can become chronic.”
Courses of action
Courses of action
In response to the results of the study, the FNRI has revised its Nutritional Guidelines for Filipinos. The revised guidelines still contains the 10 main messages on promoting proper nutrition and healthy lifestyle for Filipinos with nutritional and health justifications so the public would be more willing to adopt the guidelines.
The FNRI also aims to strengthen its Food Fortification Program in order to increase micronutrient intake through staples like rice, bread, sugar and cooking oils as well as baby foods, snack foods and juices popular amongst children.
But Dr. Milano-Dayanghirang believes that the long-term solution must come from the communities themselves: “We have to teach these parents what to do. We have to remind them that breastfeeding is best. We have to teach them what they should feed their children. We have to remind them to watch what their children are eating. These solutions are just short term. The long term solution is education.” — TJD, GMA News