July is Nutrition Month: Let us work on nutrition security together

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Nutrition is defined as “the process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth.” Lacking proper nutrition causes malnutrition which in all its forms “includes undernutrition (wasting, stunting, underweight), inadequate vitamins or minerals, overweight, and obesity,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The global picture of malnutrition in all its forms is reflected by the figures in the WHO report: “In 2022, 2.5 billion adults were overweight, including 890 million who were living with obesity, while 390 million were underweight.

“Globally in 2022, 149 million children under five were estimated to be stunted (too short for age), 45 million were estimated to be wasted (too thin for height), and 37 million were overweight or living with obesity.”

In the Philippines, we hear more often of malnutrition as referring to the underweight and stunted children and seldom about what’s being done to prevent or solve the other form of malnutrition – obesity.

A study – the 2021 Expanded National Nutrition Survey (ENNS) of the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI) –  showed that "14 percent of children five to 10 years old, 13 percent of individuals 10 to 19 years old, and 40.2 percent of adults are living with overweight and obesity. In the past decade, the prevalence rates have increased across all age groups and if no action is taken, the overall rates for overweight and obesity are projected to further rise,” a WHO report said.

In a press conference launching the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN) 2023-2028 last year, Health Secretary Teodoro J. Herbosa had observed that “as children grow into teenagers, our obesity and overweight issues increase significantly, reaching levels as high as 14 to 30 percent during adolescence.”

“So, among children under five, the country faces issues like stunting and wasting, while among older age groups, it confronts overweight problems," he said.

But the country’s bigger malnutrition problem involves underweight and stunting. A UNICEF report said: “Every day, 95 children in the Philippines die from malnutrition. Twenty-seven out of 1,000 Filipino children do not get past their fifth birthday. A third of Filipino children are stunted, or short for their age. Stunting after two years of age can be permanent, irreversible, and even fatal.”

The Health Secretary said the government aims to correct the nutrition situation for the country’s youth and citizens through the Philippine Plan of Action on Nutrition (PPAN), addressing all forms of malnutrition with particular attention to stunting and wasting, overweight and obesity, poor infant and young child feeding practices, and micronutrient deficiencies.

On the 50th year of the commemoration of Nutrition Month led by the National Nutrition Council, the theme puts these challenges in one slogan:  Sa PPAN: Sama-sama sa Nutrisyong Sapat Para sa Lahat! (Through PPAN, let’s work on nutrition security for all).

PPAN aims to reduce all forms of malnutrition through programs on healthier diet, better practices, and improved access to nutrition services. The plan emphasizes the importance of getting the government and the private sector to support programs to prevent malnutrition.

A holistic approach to nutrition planning will promote proper nutrition as the foundation of health and wellbeing. Let us not forget that good nutrition builds a healthy body, nurtures a healthy mind, affects learning, and develops the productive citizens of tomorrow.

Concerted efforts in promoting proper nutrition would propel the nation to a healthier, more prosperous future.