DOH: Poverty driving malnutrition among kids
Maria Rosario Vergeire, officer in charge of the Department of Health (DOH), has pointed to poverty as one of the main causes of malnutrition among Filipino children, calling it one of the “most important and crucial” social determinants of health outcomes, especially among those who are either malnourished, overweight or obese.
“This is not just a health issue. There are a lot of socioeconomic factors affecting families that give rise to these nutritional issues,” she said in a press briefing on Tuesday.
When a family is poor, according to Vergeire, household members are not able to get the proper nutrients, and the “cycle continues and [they] begin to produce undernourished, stunted and overweight children.”
Malnutrition, which refers to “deficiencies or excesses in the intake of nutrients,” consists of undernutrition, overweight, obesity and the development of diet-related noncommunicable diseases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Vergeire noted that 21.6 percent of Filipino infants below two years old were considered “stunted.” Figures on stunting, or impaired growth, have not improved in the past decade, she added.
The WHO defines stunting as the “impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection and inadequate psychosocial stimulation.”
‘Epidemic of obesity’
According to Vergeire, the country is also facing an “epidemic of obesity” across various segments of the population, with one in every 10 Filipino children and teenagers considered overweight.
She also noted that about 40 percent of nonpregnant women and adults were overweight, as well as 30 percent of pregnant women. This can be attributed to Filipinos’ preference for fast food, in addition to the lack of physical activity especially at the height of the pandemic.
“These are some of the factors identified in this [day] and age, and the end result is the increase in noncommunicable diseases eventually in children,” Vergeire said.
The DOH is working with multinational agencies and other government agencies to work on other social determinants of health such as access to clean water, sanitation and decent housing, she added.
A recent study by the United Nations Children’s Fund found that Filipino children were consuming less fruits and vegetables, and more sugar, salty and fatty products.
It noted that 74 percent of children between 13 and 15 years old consume less than three portions of vegetables daily, while 28 percent drink at least one soft drink a day. INQ