Malnutrition remains a big problem globally. In the Philippines, it is a big area of concern because kids are growing up to be too short for their age, and are either too thin or overweight, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
Its flagship report entitled “The State of the World’s Children: Children, Food, and Nutrition,” released recently, reveals that kids are not getting sufficient nutrition from their diet, which consists mostly of “ultra-processed” food that are high in sugar, salt, and fat. For example, the study shows that among school-going adolescents, 42% drink soft drinks at least once a day, while 46% go to fast food chains to eat at least once a week.
The lack of healthy food options, along with poverty, are factors that contribute to the malnutrition problem. Thus, the report says 7% of Filipino kids are too thin for their height, while one in every three Filipino kids below five years old are too short for their age. Meanwhile, one in every 10 Filipino adolescents are overweight.
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For its part, the National Nutrition Council (NNC) has already taken some steps to address the issue of malnutrition in the country.
“One of the strategic thrusts of the PPAN 2017-2022 [Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition] is the focus on the first 1,000 days of life, which refers to the period of pregnancy up to the first two years of the child,” said NNC Executive Director Dr. Azucena Dayanghirang.
She also stressed the importance of the said period, from pregnancy to the child’s first two years of life, for a child’s physical and mental development.
“This is a window of golden opportunity wherein key health, nutrition, early education and related services should be delivered to ensure optimum physical and mental development of a child,” she added.
The problem of malnutrition is threefold, according to the UNICEF:
1. Undernutrition - about 200 million kids are either too short or too thin from not having enough to eat
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2. Micronutrient deficiency - also referred to as “hidden hunger,” it “occurs when the quality of food people eat does not meet their nutrient requirements, so the food is deficient in micronutrients such as the vitamins and minerals that they need for their growth and development,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Micronutrient deficiency reduces a child’s ability to learn and may increase the mortality rate among women during or shortly after childbirth.
3. Being overweight - could eventually progress to type-2 diabetes, or trigger depression among children. The UNICEF enjoins government agencies and other stakeholders to do their part in solving the malnutrition problem. Some of the steps it suggested are the regulation of unhealthy food and beverages and fortifying staple foods with micronutrients.
“National food systems must put children’s nutrition at the heart of their work because their nutritional needs are unique and meeting them is critical for sustainable development.”