Do Filipnos really have a lower IQ than the world average? The World Population Review ranked the Philippines 111th out of 199 countries in terms of average IQ. The report said that Filipnos have an average IQ of 81.64, which is below 85-114, the scores for what is considered average intelligence. There are parties who question the veracity of the information but even if the study hadn’t caught people’s attention, there are many studies, such as UNESCO Bangkok’s December 2022 report on Filipino students’ lackluster performance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), that make it believable.
Experts say that IQ can be determined by a number of things, including one’s education, environment (rampant poverty, among others), and nutrition. Nutrition is especially insidious in this equation, since it can be easily overlooked. Most people think that malnutrition only results in extremely thin babies. What they don’t realize is that it also results in individuals with stunted intellectual and emotional development (basically what contributes to what we know as IQ and EQ). Add to this a culture that doesn’t think very highly of education and can also be pretty toxic in terms of setting boundaries as an individual among other things, and you have a person that may be at a disadvantage, especially when competing on a global stage.
Malnutrition in babies starts in the womb. If a pregnant woman doesn’t get enough nutrients, her baby’s weight, IQ, and EQ suffer. Aside from this, a lack of nutrients during a child’s formative years may result in impaired memory, comprehension, learning capacity, concentration, coordination, and physical growth.
According to a World Bank report from 2021, the Philippines has been suffering from chronic undernutrition for decades, with no improvements seen in the past 30 years. The report also underscores the high prevalence of micronutrient undernutrition, or the lack of micronutrients like vitamins and minerals in one’s diet.
It’s no secret that many Filipinos struggle to put food on the table. According to the 2022 Global Hunger Index, the Philippines ranked 69th out of 111 counties with a score of 14.8, indicating moderate hunger. “Moderate” hunger, however, isn’t necessarily an indicator of proper nutrition. For one thing, it’s often easier and cheaper to consume calorie and flavor dense but nutritiously lacking food in many areas than it is to buy and/or cook nutritious, delicious meals.
Even if a family wants to eat healthy, they have to contend with factors like the rising prices of fresh meat and vegetables as well as the hassle of having to cook food given a hectic schedule, and food that the family will actually eat at that, versus the convenience of buying instant food that already tastes good and will keep long in the pantry besides, thanks to the liberal application of flavorings and preservatives. Sometimes street cafeterias can be a godsend, as at least customers have access to home-cooked food, but not everyone has access to a trusty neighborhood carinderia, or the budget to buy from it every day.
With the price of onions, a staple ingredient in many Filipino households, predicted to go as high as ₱700 a kilo by the end of the year, we ask once again, why is it so expensive to eat a nutritionally sound meal in the Philippines? Why is it cheaper to import ingredients than it is to buy local and why has the local food system been left opaque and lacking in resources and support for decades? Why, despite the multiple alarms raised, does the agriculture industry continue to get more and more difficult to thrive in, to the point that farmers are actively telling their children not to follow in their footsteps because farming means poverty?
The whole thing is a cycle, even though the factors are so far apart they’re rarely thought of as connected. Education and social environment aside, limiting the regular Filipino’s access to delicious (this is important because otherwise, good luck getting anyone to eat it), nutritious, culturally appropriate food will lead to citizens with intellectual, emotional, cognitive, and physical challenges, which in turn makes them unable to fulfill their potential as individuals and as Filipinos. Repairing our broken food system doesn’t just mean fair wages for farmers and cheap food for everyone; it also means enabling myriad food cultures that’s calorically and nutritiously sound.
The more time you spend in the agriculture industry, the more you realize just how much it encompasses. The act of eating isn’t just about keeping the rumbling of one’s stomach at bay. It’s also about giving the body the calories and nutrients it needs to stay strong, healthy, coherent, and, as anyone who loves eating can attest, happy.