The World Bank report, titled “Undernutrition in the Philippines: Scale, Scope and Opportunities for Nutrition Policy and Programming”, found that 29 percent of Filipino children age 5 or younger, or one in every three such children, are suffering from stunted growth which is when children are smaller in height compared with healthier children of the same age.
“The persistence of very high levels of childhood undernutrition, despite decades of economic growth and poverty reduction, could lead to a staggering loss of the country’s human and economic potential,” warned the institution.
Across East Asia and the Pacific region, the Philippines had the fifth-highest prevalence of stunting. Worldwide, the country is in the top 10.
The report pointed out further, “There are regions with levels of stunting that exceed 40 percent of the population. In Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, 45 percent of children below 5 are stunted. In Mimaropa, 41 percent; for the regions of Bicol, Western Visayas and Soccksargen, it is 40 percent.
WB blamed stunting mainly on micronutrient undernutrition, that affected infants, children and even pregnant women.
“A Filipino child with optimal nutrition will have greater cognitive development, stay in school longer, learn more in school, and have a brighter future as an adult, while undernutrition robs other children of their chance to succeed,” the report said.
It was noted that the past 30 years saw “almost no improvements in the prevalence of undernutrition in the Philippines.” It further pointed out the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the sharp rise of hunger in the country, citing surveys by the Social Weather Station.
The Philippines has been suffering from the “silent pandemic” of childhood stunting resulting from undernutrition for too long and the difficulties our countrymen are facing because of the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to make matters worse. Along with many other urgent concerns, nutrition-related programs may have taken a back seat over the past year but we cannot doom an entire generation of Filipinos by allowing so many children to grow stunted.
When will our leaders see that investing in nutrition is an investment in the future?*