THE Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) has just launched a campaign against malnutrition and child stunting in the country through initiatives that will complement the government's Philippine Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Project.
This comes after a study by the World Bank showed that the country has one of the worst cases of child stunting in the world. The Philippines ranked fifth with the highest stunting prevalence among countries in the East Asia and Pacific Region. It is also among the top 10 worst countries in the world. In last week's editorial, we traced malnutrition as one of the causes why Filipino elementary-school students got very low marks in science, mathematics and English proficiency in Southeast Asia.
According to the World Health Organization, stunting is a growth and development impairment of children resulting from poor nutrition, repeated infection and inadequate psychosocial stimulation.
According to MAP President and BDB Law founding partner Benedicta Du-Baladad, the group's presence in the food, retail, health care, education and logistics industries, as well as other sectors, would help leapfrog progress in resolving malnutrition through sustainable and effective interventions and actions.
Rightly so; the MAP will broaden its role beyond fund generation and philanthropy to a shared responsibility in addressing malnutrition in the country. Henceforth, it will actively participate in the programming and governance of nutrition strategies and interventions, using the much-vaunted project management skills of its members.
Dr. Cielito Habito, governor in charge for the MAP Cluster on Resilience and Recovery, said MAP's diverse ecosystem would muster the strength of the private sector to mobilize and help the government achieve its nutrition's objectives. He said child stunting is a “major threat” to the country's future.
If the problem is not addressed in an urgent and decisive manner, we will be placing our country's future in the hands of stunted children who will become adults with limited capacities to be productive, competitive and creative.
Its exponential effect on national development and progress will be calamitous.
The MAP will collaborate with the Department of Health, National Nutrition Council, and Department of Social Welfare and Development. It will also ask the government to declare stunting as a priority national agenda. Beyond words, concrete actions should be cascaded to the community level. This would allow the local government units to allocate funds for feeding programs with emphasis on maternal nutrition, babies and toddlers. Vegetable farms in the communities and vegetable gardens in the elementary schools should be encouraged again.
According to the Global Nutrition Institute, schools and educators have a role to play in reducing malnutrition around the world. They can do these through various ways.
First, girls' participation in schooling can be improved. Girls' schooling can reduce adolescent pregnancy — a risk factor for small birth size — as well as raise the age of marriage and reduce total fertility. Clearly, in the long run what girls learn in school is even more important. This is not just basic literacy and numeracy, but also information on health and nutrition.
Second, the school can serve as a platform for nutrition education and other nutrition-related services. There is evidence on school-based modules for nutrition education, particularly in encouraging healthy eating and promoting exercise to curb obesity. Hygiene and handwashing should also be encouraged, well as the teaching of modules addressing risky activities linked to adolescent pregnancies.
Third, make school meals a nutrition intervention and use school feeding as a potential support to agricultural development. In addition to its nutrition, education and social protection objectives, school feeding is increasingly asked to support agricultural development through homegrown school feeding programs.
Adding a new objective increases the trade-offs that must be considered. In the case of homegrown school feeding, decentralization makes fortification — one means by which school meals can reduce micronutrient deficiencies — more challenging, but not impossible. Over time, however, homegrown school feeding may improve dietary diversity and increase food security among low-income producers.
These are doable and concrete measures that the schools can do and that the MAP should encourage. The future of a stunted Filipino nation is difficult to contemplate.
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