Stunted Filipino kids, a challenge to the gov’t

(Photo Courtesy: The Star)

By: Lorenzo O. Lambatin Jr.

THE government faces a challenging task in addressing Filipino children who are stunted in growth.

“One in three or 33.4 percent of Filipino children, five years old and below, faces a bleak future due to stunting,” senior research specialist Salvador R. Serrano of the Food and Nutrition Research  Institute-Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST) said.

“This figure may not look much at first glance, but translating it to a number of young children alarmingly translates to 3.61 million, based on the 2015 census of population of children under five years old,” he added.

According to FNRI-DOST, stunting is a form of irreversible undernutrition where a child’s height is below the standard for his or her age.

This is largely caused by prolonged inadequate food intake; improper feeding practices; and frequent illness, stunting reflects long-term undernutrition,” Serrano said.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report on Monitoring the Situation of Children and Women in January 2018 says that undernutrition puts children at greater risk of dying from common infections, increases frequency and severity of such infections, and contributes to delayed recovery.

The same UNICEF report found out that the interaction between undernutrition and infection can create a potentially lethal cycle of worsening illness and deteriorating nutritional status.

Quoting UNICEF report, he said that “poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, or the time from conception until two years of age, can also lead to stunted growth, which is associated with impaired cognitive ability and reduced school and work performance.”

Across the globe, nearly half of all deaths in children under five years old are attributable to undernutrition, translating into the loss of about three million young lives a year, the UNICEF further reports.

“In the Philippines, nutrition surveys by the FNRI in a five-year span revealed the long-term prevalence of stunting in children five years old and below, where it just fluctuated from 32.3 percent in 2008, to 33.6 percent in 2011 and 30.3 percent in 2013, translating on the average to three in 10 children.”

In 2015, stunting prevalence among the same age group again increased to 33.4 percent or still about three in 10, the FNRI nutrition survey noted, Serrano said.

He said the 2013 National Nutrition Survey (NNS) of the FNRI revealed that boys two years old and below were more likely than girls of the same age to be stunted, with one in three falling short of height standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

However, at three years old, the 2013 NNS also recorded that one in three girls was also stunted.

“The 2013 NNS likewise revealed that among the regions, Bicol or Region V registered the highest percentage of stunted children, also with two in five not making it to the WHO height standards,” he said.

Other regions with almost the same high stunting prevalence as Bicol among children five years old and below based on the same survey are the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Zamboanga Peninsula, Western Visayas, Eastern Visayas, and SOCCSKSARGEN.

The same survey made special notice that from 2011 to 2013, stunting prevalence among the same age group in all regions, although still high, decreased except for Central Luzon.

Aside from the Philippines, countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Carribean also suffer from similar health issues in varying degrees.

“Rest assured that the DOST-FNRI is always heeding the call of the times by regularly determining the nutritional status of Filipinos through nutrition surveys as the scientific basis for its nutrition programs and projects. These include developing and putting forward policy options, strategies, programs, and projects which address malnutrition for implementation by appropriate agencies,” Serrano said. (PIA/FNRI-DOST)