One in three Filipino under 5 children is stunted
Without a strong political system, the figures are expected to rise in 2030
Despite the fast-growing economy in the Philippines, the national prevalence rates in chronic malnutrition remains one of the biggest challenges the country faces with an alarming 3.4 million children who are stunted or short for their age and more than 300,000 children under 5 years who are wasted or underweight for their age.
The figures are expected to rise in 2030 without a strong political system, according to the "Socio-economy of Chronic Malnutrition in the Philippines: A preliminary key trends analysis by 2030” study released by the Inter-Agency Regional Analyst Network (RAN) of the Paris-based Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques (IRIS), stating further that poor health and nutrition services, poverty and inequality are causing 20% of death of children under the age of five.
This continues to be a critical child health problem, with the Philippines ranking 9th among countries with the highest number of stunted children, according to RAN study which aims to support Action Against Hunger in its strategic action in fighting hunger and malnutrition in the Philippines.
Though the Philippines has thrived in reducing the deaths of children under five years because of undernutrition, many children still suffer from stunted growth because they do not receive the appropriate care and nutritional requirement during their first two years of age. Undernutrition rates increase remarkably from the critical stage of infancy to two years while underweight prevalence among children under-5 has stagnated, overweight and wasting have significantly increased, according to the study.
Based on Food and Nutrition Research Institute data from 2015, the Philippines stunting or chronic malnutrition rate among children under-5 was 33.4% nationwide, up from 30.3% in 2013, and 35.7% for children aged 0 to 2. Since rooted in war, the stunting situation is highest in the Autonomous Region and Muslim Mindanao with 45.2%, in 2015, 7% up from 2013. Being highly disaster-prone, the risk of malnutrition increases in the aftermath of emergencies particularly in Eastern Visayas with 41.7% and Mimaropa with 40.9%.
The RAN study also reiterated the World Health Organization’s report that over 17 million children under age five are severely malnourished and have 9x increased risk for death while close to half of deaths in children under 5 years old can be directly or indirectly linked to malnutrition.
Digging into the causes
Stunting has irreparable consequences for the child if left unsolved beyond 2 years of age. The physical and mental development during this critical period is irreversible after reaching age of 2. In the World Bank’s study “Why Invest in Nutrition,” it cites that a 1% loss in adult height as a result of childhood stunting is linked with a 1.4 percent loss in economic productivity making them earn 20% less as adults. Stunting is associated with up to 3% GDP losses annually according to World Bank.
The RAN report cited the underlying causes of chronic malnutrition which strongly associated the high stunting rates in the Philippines. Digging deep, sanitation and hygiene, gender inequality, rise of teenage pregnancies and maternal education impact the incidence of stunting. Malnutrition and hunger is not only the outcome of the socio economic or infrastructural situation. It is deeply rooted in the political structure, environmental management or lack of it, too. Political weaknesses of the state such as the lack of implementation of the rules of law impede the social services to the poorer layers of the population. While policies exist on the national level, the implementation on the local level is impeded by lack of capacity, structural weaknesses and of political will.
According to a study of Lancet, a leading medical journal, stunting is most effectively prevented during the first 1,000 days in the life of a child, aptly called as a "window of opportunity” to prevent malnutrition starting from day 1 of the 9 months of pregnancy and until the child reaches his or her second birthday. Action Against Hunger supports the implementation of the Early Childhood Care and Development Intervention Package for the First 1000 Days, an important project of the government starting 2016 to tackle stunting by focusing on maternal and young child health and nutrition, early child education and basic social services.
"Our call for the new administration of President Rodrigo Duterte is to commit and invest in nutrition as well as hold nutrition stakeholders accountable to meet targets to reduce child stunting and wasting, and strengthen and sustain the political will to address malnutrition as a crucial concern of development," says Javad Amoozegar, country director for Action Against Hunger Philippines.
Action Against Hunger works closely with the Department of Health, through the National Nutrition Council (NNC) and government key players, civil society groups, the academe and private sectors to identify actions in addressing malnutrition, and scale up nutrition actions including promotion of breastfeeding and appropriate complementary feeding, management of acute malnutrition, and nutrition-sensitive interventions in agriculture, disaster risk reduction, among others.