The Go-Grow-Glow of Malnutrition in the Philippines

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Have you ever had that experience of not being satisfied with the food you’ve ordered and subsequently not finishing it?

I am sure, you have also have experienced being scolded by someone saying that there are millions of people dying of hunger and you’ll just waste your food? And I am definite that you have answered them back, at least once with “Bakit? Mabubusog ba sila kapag inubos ko ‘tong pagkain ko?” We all have, actually, experienced this. But do we really realize the gravity of wasted food and how many people, okay, let’s be more specific, how many children fall under malnutrition because of the lack of food or nutritious food? Let us look at the Go-Grow-Glow of malnutrition in the Philippines.

GO: The meat of it all

The term malnutrition, with its prefix mal basically means an abnormal nutrition; an individual either lacks or exceeds the proper amount of nutrition in the body. It could be because the individual lacks food intake or intake of nutritious food. It could also be because of excess intake of unhealthy food, or by eating the same kind of food over and over again.

Malnutrition is most often caused by food insecurity. The limited amount or uncertain availability of nutritious food for consumption appropriate for the consumption as identified by the person’s age and need. Food insecurity also deals with the acceptable ways of acquiring food or the uncertainty to do so. The problem of malnutrition in the Philippines is mostly prevalent among poor families. This is because, one, they do not have enough resources to buy nutritious food and they have no choice but to settle with instant noodles over and over again, or they don’t have money to buy food at all. Although the problem of malnutrition is also present even to some rich or even well-to-do families. Children who are left unchecked by their parents on what they eat, whether they are still eating nutritious food, could also fall prey to malnutrition.

According to studies conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), almost one out of three Filipinos aged six to ten are underweight or under height for their age. Being underweight or under height appropriately for an individual’s age is one of the many signs of malnutrition, especially for children who should be at the right pace of growing up in their early ages. With just being too skinny for their age, this type of malnutrition is already 30% fatal for children. Common types of malnutrition problems in the Philippines include: Protein-Energy Malnutrition (PEM): lack of energy and protein-source food which results in growth retardation, Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA): deficiency in Iron which results to shorter attention span and reduced ability to learn, Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD): lack of vitamin A which could result to impaired vision, rough dry skin, slow resistance to disease, poor growth, and Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD): lack of iodine which results to mental retardation, deafness or mute, and stunting of the limbs.

GROW: Fighting malnutrition as a growing concern, still

I am sure you’ve heard countless times that breastfeeding is best for babies up to two years. Well, believe it or not, it is really the best for babies to help prevent malnutrition. Breastfeeding is like giving a very nutritious and complete meal to your children. By providing exclusive breastfeeding, meaning, a baby is receiving only breast milk from the mother, not even water or any other alternative to milk, the child will receive enough and appropriate nutrients for the child’s proper growth. This promotes good health and provides enough protection for the child from diseases. Breastfeeding is very economical and practical as well, especially for poor families who have no resources to afford artificial milk. In a country like the Philippines, where many perceives themselves as poor, breastfeeding is one sure way to mitigate the lack of nutritious food for poor people. But in breastfeeding, you also must consider the health of the mother. To provide enough breast milk, the mother should have enough nutritious food intake and be free from stress.

Breastfeeding is seen by the health institutions as a viable way to help reduce cases of malnutrition in Filipino children. If mothers would be encouraged to breastfeed their children, then the kids will have a better nutritional foundation as they continue to grow up from two years and beyond. The government provides support through the local health clinics to the mothers by providing information awareness, vitamins for the mother to keep them healthy, breastfeeding centers and the like. Even some private places such as shopping malls give importance to breastfeeding by providing a space, private enough for mother to breastfeed their children at any time that they are inside the mall. The problem now is that, more and more mothers resolve to provide breast milk alternatives because most need to leave their children at home for them to work outside.

GLOW: The fresh initiatives to fight malnutrition

The fight against malnutrition in the Philippines still has a long road to travel. The digits of cases of malnutrition, especially among children, are still far from the ideal target set by international and national health organizations. That is why the government always welcomes initiatives coming from private and non-government organization to fight malnutrition because they know that the government cannot solve this problem alone, that it should be concerted effort coming from various sectors in the society. It is more like a public-private partnership to curb out cases of malnutrition in the Philippines. There are a number of groups who contribute through research. There are a number who do civic work by providing feeding programs for the poor, especially to children in schools that go through studying without anything in their stomach.


The Philippines is 75% agricultural. Meaning, almost 75% of what we produce is food or for food. Then why are we talking about malnutrition as a problem? The answer is very simple. One, we choose not to eat healthy food. Two, even if we want to eat nutritious food, we do not eat most of what we produce. Foreigners do (through export). What’s left for us is either the next to the best products, or a cheaper import of fertilized filled food. So the next time you’ll have left over, yes, think of the other who have no chances of eating, and think of yourself too because that might be the last full meal that you can enjoy.

Illustration by: Rave Apilado

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