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  • Writer's pictureMelo Acuna

Philippines ranks 5th in East Asia and Pacific in stunting prevalence; among top ten worldwide

“Silent Pandemic” impacts on poor families in the Philippines

MANILA – Aside from the dangers posed by COVID-19, a “silent pandemic” continues to creep in the country’s poorer regions, particularly the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Bicol and Western Visayas regions.

Childhood undernutrition is seen in stunting which is characterized by prolonged nutritional deficiency among infants and your children, said to be one of the most serious and least-addressed problems in the world and an even more pressing issue in the Philippines, according to a report entitled “Undernutrition in the Philippines: Scale, Cope and Opportunities for Nutrition Policy and Programming.”

The report revealed about 30 percent of children under 5 years of age are stunted, found high for its level of income and high compared to most of its neighbors. Other countries with similar levels of income have rates of stunting averaging around 20 percent of children under 5 years of age.

The Philippines, according to the study released by World Bank today said, is fifth among countries in the East Asia and Pacific region which the highest stunting prevalence, and among the top ten countries worldwide with the highest number of stunted children.

Ndiamé Diop, World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand said undernutrition is a critical issue hampering the Philippines’ human and economic development.

“Health children can do well in school and look forward to a prosperous future as productive members of society, while undernourished children tend to be sickly, learn less, more likely to drop out of school and their economic productivity as adults can be clipped by more than 10 percent in their lifetime,” said Diop. He added improving the nutrition of all children is key to the country’s goals of investing in people and boosting human capital for a more inclusive pattern of economic growth.

The levels of stunting exceeds 40 percent of children under five years of age, in the BARMM, MIMAROPA, Bicol and Western Visayas. In rural areas, children are more likely to be stunted than their urban counterparts.

The report cited the primary causes of undernutrition including poor infant and young children feeding practices, ill health, low access to diverse, nutritious foods, inadequate access to health services, unhealthy household, environment, and poverty.

Meanwhile, Nkosinathi Mbuya, World Bank Senior Nutrition Specialist, Est Asia and the Pacific Region and lead author of the report said “there is only a narrow window of opportunity for adequate nutrition to ensure children’s optimal health and physical and cognitive development. It spans the first 1,000 days of life from day of conception to the child’s second birthday.

“Any undernutrition occurring during this period can lead to extensive and largely irreversible damage to physical growth, brain development, and, more broadly, human capital formation,” said Mbuya. He said interventions to improve nutritional outcomes must focus on this age group and women of child-bearing age,” he added.

The report said it is important in an all-out campaign against undernutrition would require adequate domestic financing for nutrition-related programs for vulnerable populations. Increased direct government funding to and from local government units to deliver on their multisectoral nutrition action plans to be a priority.

These include securing adequate and predictable financing for nutrition-related programs to achieve nutrition goals, implementing at a scale, an evidence-based package of nutrition interventions that need to be available to eligible households in high stunting towns, addressing the underlying determinants of undernutrition through a multi-sector effort, and; ensuring that nutrition is one of the key priorities in the agendas of both the executive and legislative bodies in municipalities. (Melo M. Acuña)

Ndiamé Diop, World Bank Country Manager for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand. (Screen grab from the study released by World Bank)

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