Losing to malnutrition
Published by the Visayan Daily Star
Editor-in-Chief & President
Bureau Chief, Dumaguete
MAJA P. DELY
|CARLOS ANTONIO L. LEONARDIA
The 2019 State of the World’s Children Report estimates the Philippines to be losing P232 billion each year due to malnutrition which is partly driven by the increasing availability of processed food, especially to poor families.
The United Nation Children’s Fund said that as urban populations grow and food systems become highly globalized, people’s access to processed food also increased. It added that while more children are surviving, “far too few are thriving” since the food they consume are low in essential nutrients.
As a result, one out of three kids below 5 years old in the Philippines is stunted, or too short for his or her age, according to UNICEF.
Dr. Rene Galera, a UNICEF nutrition specialist, pointed out that because of undernourishment, children suffered from long-term developmental delays. These include performing poorly in school and getting sick often, which burdens the public health system. Such factors adversely affect people’s productivity and are estimated to cost the economy P232 billion yearly.
That economic impact had Galera urging government to increase its investments in health and nutrition to help ensure that children are growing up and healthy. He pointed out that to “really make a dent” in a child’s nutritional outcomes, at least P51 billion should be allocated annually. “For every dollar invested, the economic return is $12. This is why we have to consider nutrition’s economic cost,” he added.
The World Health Organization had earlier expressed concern that processed food and sugary drinks had become “cheaper and more accessible than their healthier alternatives” in the Western Pacific region, which includes the Philippines.
Undernourishment and malnutrition are related problems that will not go away unless affected governments make serious investments to counter the effects of easier access to processed food that is stunting the growth of an entire generation of poor children. Aside from coordinating with fast food chains and processed food manufacturers to improve the nutritional value of their offerings and provide healthier options, providing access to affordable and healthier food options to a larger percentage of the population must also be given the attention it deserves so we don’t continue losing hundreds of billions every year to malnutrition, a cost that most of us won’t realize until it’s too late.*