The World Bank said the Philippines needs to invest more in programs tackling childhood undernutrition to eliminate a “silent pandemic” afflicting many of the country’s poor and vulnerable population.
In a World Bank report entitled “Undernutrition in the Philippines: Scale, Scope and Opportunities for Nutrition Policy and Programming,” it noted that childhood stunting is a more pressing issue in the country.
According to the report, childhood stunting—characterized by prolonged nutritional deficiency among infants and young children—is considered one of the most serious but least-addressed problems in the Philippines.
Around 30 percent of Filipino children under five-years of age are stunted—considered 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 only around 20 percent.
The Philippines’ rate of stunting places it fifth among countries in the East Asia and Pacific region with the highest stunting prevalence, and among the top 10 countries globally with the highest number of stunted children.
Ndiamé Diop, World Bank country director for the Philippines said undernutrition is a critical issue hampering the Philippines’ human and economic development.
Diop said 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.
“To achieve that, we need greater coordination among the local and national government units, as well as participation of the private sector and civil society to address this silent pandemic afflicting many poor and vulnerable families,” Diop.
In some regions, the level of stunting exceeds 40 percent of children under five years of age, particularly in Bangsamoro Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Mimaropa, Bicol, and Western Visayas.
In rural areas, children are more likely to be stunted than their urban counterparts, World Bank said.
Among the primary causes of undernutrition are poor infant and young child feeding practices, ill health, low access to diverse, nutritious foods, inadequate access to health services, unhealthy household environment, and poverty.
According to Nkosinathi Mbuya, World Bank senior nutrition specialist, 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 the day of conception to the child’s second birthday, he said.
“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,” Mbuya said.
“Therefore, interventions to improve nutritional outcomes must focus on this age group and women of child-bearing age,” he added.