EDITORIAL – Stunted, obese
Poor diet is making Filipino children grow up stunted and in poor health. Those in their teens, meanwhile, are suffering from obesity. This assessment is contained in a global report prepared by the United Nations Children’s Fund, which called for interventions to promote a healthy diet among Filipino children.
Unicef, in its State of the World’s Children: Children, Food and Nutrition report, warned that in the Philippines, one in three children under five years old is stunted while about seven percent of children are too thin for their height.
Among Filipino adolescents, meanwhile, a tenth are overweight, UNICEF reported, making them vulnerable to diseases. UNICEF attributed this not only to inadequate nutrition but also to poor hygiene and unhealthy behavior as well as incomplete immunization, now worsened by a vaccination scare.
UNICEF reported that by the age of 2, Filipino children who are undernourished in both quantity and nutrient needs were already irreversibly stunted and may be suffering from anemia. Wrong diet is also blamed for obesity, with children particularly from poor families consuming too much processed foods that are high in sugar, fats and salt but lacking in the nutrients that are essential for healthy growth. Adolescent obesity in the country has tripled in the past 15 years.
Proper nutrition need not be expensive. Many parents, however, need information on what types of food are needed for the healthy growth of their children, particularly in the first two years of life. UNICEF reported that among Filipino children aged 6 to 23 months, around 44 percent are not fed fruits and vegetables, which are readily available particularly in rural areas, while 59 percent are not fed eggs, dairy products, fish or meat.
The importance of breastfeeding in healthy child growth also needs greater emphasis. UNICEF reported that only about a third of Filipino babies are breastfed during their first six months of life.
To address these problems, the government has launched a program to promote nutritious diet during a child’s first 1,000 days. The program must get sufficient and sustained support, so that healthy eating can become ingrained in national life.