Insidious malnutrition is stunting economic growth

The correlation is not readily apparent, since nutrition is closer to health and wellness while socioeconomic development involves industries, labor and capital. But it did not escape President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s mind that in his overarching objective of pushing economic recovery of the nation following the Covid-19 scourge, malnutrition especially among Filipino children is a no mean hurdle.

The Chief Executive, in leading the national launch of the Philippine Multisectoral Nutrition Project (PMNP) at the Manila Hotel on March 29, stressed the need to immediately act on the nutritional problems of Filipinos.

The PMNP is a four-year project of the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). It adopts a bold and multi-sectoral approach to achieve nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions across the country's towns and cities.

One good thing going for the policymakers like the President is that in setting policy and charting goals, they are guided by scientific studies and verified data which, if properly used, make for an effective tool of governance.

The 2021 National Nutrition Survey (ENNS) results broke down the prevalence of malnutrition among infants and young children as follows: Underweight: 12.3 percent (medium);  Stunting: 21.6 percent (high); Wasting: 7.2 percent (medium), and Overweight-for-height: 3.6 percent.

To address the issue, President Marcos said the PMNP focuses on aiding local government units (LGUs) most in need of intervention. This would be in the form of primary healthcare support and nutrition services, including Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) services, access to clean water and sanitation, technical information, and training and financing, among others.

Calling malnutrition “insidious,” the Chief Executive correctly noted that the malady is “linked to  long-term adverse developmental impacts, taking its toll on our people’s learning ability, academic performance, all the way to productivity and employment opportunities — and it also carries with it hereditary implications.”

“Like the problem of food security, these related nutritional issues are also critical and fundamental to our socioeconomic development,” he added.  He even cited the World Bank which considers investing in the people's nutrition promises the highest returns, making it one of the best value-for-money development actions.

The President's adamant decision to remain as head of the Department of Agriculture (DA) despite the various problems encountered by this agency in recent weeks is just a testimony to his commitment to boost food security — necessarily including nutrition — at the forefront of his administration's national agenda, anchored on the vision for a prosperous, resilient, and secure Philippines by 2040.

Marcos recognizes that a lot of work has yet to be done to attain Sustainable Development Goal 2 on Zero Hunger. He cited a 2021 Global Food Security Index, which ranked the Philippines at a modest 64th out of 113 countries in four dimensions of food security.  He believes that the keys to prioritizing interventions are those geared toward making food available, affordable and accessible amid the looming global food and energy shortage.

The Marcos administration sees food security and nutrition as twin concerns that would need solutions that are “strategically related and mutually reinforcing,” and in this regard, the government, the private sector and all Filipinos must cooperate and share in this national effort which is pivotal to our survival and growth.