Tackling malnutrition is as urgent as ever (Part 2) 

Published November 5, 2019, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Atty. Joey D. Lina
Atty. Joey D. Lina

With all the accolades bestowed on outstanding Filipinos whose sterling achievements have amazed the world through the years, many find unbelievable the news that our country is not among the smartest on earth. And some are even flabbergasted by reports that we might even be among those considered dumb.

In the ASEAN region alone, the World Population Review 2019 reported that based on IQ or intelligence quotient, the Philippines is at the bottom of the list that ranks smartest countries. With an IQ score of 86, our country trails Myanmar and Indonesia (both have a score of 87). Singapore ranks highest at 108; followed by Vietnam, 94; Malaysia, 92; Thailand, Cambodia and Brunei, 91; and Laos, 89.

But the Philippines’ IQ is not really super low, considering that the lowest IQ on average in the world is 59 (Equatorial Guinea in Africa), while the highest is 108 (Singapore  and Hong Kong).

The World Population Review, a US-based independent organization without political affiliations, explained IQ scores “typically reflect the quality of education in certain parts of the world, as well as the accessibility and resources available to people in those geographic regions.” It said South Korea has the second-highest IQ score of 106, followed by Japan and China with an average of 105. The US has a score of 98.

However, IQ is not the sole measure of intelligence in assessing countries. Other factors include Nobel Prize feats by countries and its students’ achievements. The UK-based Vouchercloud, which ranks countries “using a range of data including number of Nobel Prizes won (to represent historic intelligence), current average IQ (to represent present intelligence), and educational attainment (the intelligence of the future generation),” has picked Japan to be the smartest country on earth.

With 26 Nobel Prizes won over the years, the sixth highest in the world, Japan is considered the smartest even if it is ranked fifth in the world for educational success and sixth for average IQ. While the US has won 368 Nobel Prizes, its low average IQ performance (at 28th spot) and students’ test score ranking (seventh) has brought it to fourth overall position in Vouchercloud’s list which only covers the top 25 countries. The Philippines is not in the list.

While many find it hard to believe that the Philippines is not among the top 25 smartest countries, others think our IQ ranking is not surprising, considering the extent of malnutrition afflicting Filipinos, especially the children.

A severe form of malnutrition, stunting caused by undernutrition, is associated with impaired cognitive ability and reduced school performance, and it is alarming that the Philippines has 30.3 % prevalence and is at 88th spot out of 132 countries ranked lowest to highest in the 2016 Global Nutrition Report.

The non-government organization Save the Children Philippines made an in-depth study in 2016 which revealed that of the 330,418 students who repeated a grade level in 2013, about 15% or 48,597 students “had repeated a grade level as a result of under-five stunting.” Around R1.23 billion was required to cover the costs of grade level repetitions for these stunted children.

Overall, stunting costs the Philippines some R326.5 billion in lost productivity composed of two elements – reduced productivity among the stunted work force, and the complete loss of productivity due to premature under-five child deaths linked to undernutrition.

Oyun Dendevnorov, UNICEF Philippines representative, said that “the first 1,000 days of a child’s life from conception up to two years are critical in establishing a child’s foundation for physical growth and brain development. Yet infants are not fed well and are therefore not thriving. Only a third of babies are exclusively breastfed during the first six months. Around 44 percent of children aged 6-23 months are not given fruits and vegetables, and 59 percent are not fed eggs, dairy products, fish or meat. They are not getting their required nutritional intake by consuming a balanced diet of at least five of the seven food groups.”

The National Nutrition Council (NNC) is exerting all efforts to address malnutrition through the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN) 2017-2022 with special focus on the first 1,000 days of life. “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. Poor nutrition during this period can have irreversible effects on the physical and mental development of a child that eventually affects a child’s performance in school as well as productivity and ability to earn as an adult, consequently affecting the quality of life of a person,” according to Dr. Azucena Dayanghirang, NNC executive director.

“If we look further at the data, we will see that stunting rates among one-year olds is 36.6%, which is twice as much as the 15.5% stunting rate among infants 6-11 months old.  And stunting rates remain at the 30% level or more among children 3 and 4 years old. Clearly, we have to prevent that increase. We at the NNC are urging key stakeholders at the national, regional, and local government units to carry out the PPAN 2017-2022 and give particular attention to the first 1,000 days of life to give our Filipino children a brighter future,” she stressed.

It is high time that all stakeholders join hands in battling the menace of malnutrition afflicting Filipino children.

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