PH economy loses P328 billion a year due to malnutrition – report

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/30 August) – The country is losing at least P328 billion a year due to the impact of childhood stunting on workforce productivity and education, a report released Tuesday by Save the Children said.

Stunting, considered the most prevalent form of undernutrition, has permanent effects on a child’s growth and development, the report said.

The report titled “Cost of Hunger: Philippines” suggests that, in 2013, childhood stunting cost the Philippines almost 3 percent of its GDP. The economic loss consisted of:
1)      PhP166.5 billion worth of lost income as a result of lower level of education achieved by the working population who suffered from childhood stunting;
2)      PhP160 billion in lost productivity due to premature deaths among children who would have been members of our current working-age population;
3)      PhP1.23 billion in additional education costs to cover grade repetitions linked to undernutrition.

“If we add up health costs, the likely impact would be an additional 0.05 – 1.6 percent,” Ned Olney, Save the Children Philippines Country Director, said:

“The report shows that stunting is the best predictor of productivity and income, and that undernutrition is linked to lower human capital. Children who are stunted in the first two years of life are more likely to repeat grade levels, drop out of school, delay school entry and have lower income levels when they enter the workforce,” a statement from the group quoted Olney as saying.

“If stunting rates continue to rise, it would be difficult for families to break free from poverty. It is the poor and neglected sectors of society that carry the burden of stunting. Any investment in reducing childhood undernutrition will reduce suffering and poverty, and will ultimately stimulate economic growth for all Filipinos,” he added.

Save the Children noted that the country’s investment in nutrition programs was 0.52 percent of general government expenditures compared to the global average allocation of 2.1 percent.

It cited the need to invest in nutrition programs during the child’s first 1000 days, from pregnancy up to the second birthday, which is considered a critical period of care to avert stunting.

“Nutrition is the cornerstone of all development efforts. This new report tells us that for every US$1 spent on programs to avert stunting in children below 2 years old, the Philippines could save over 100 US dollars in health, education, and lost productivity costs.

“It should outrage us that 95 children will die every day because of malnutrition,” Olney said.

In addition to investing in the child’s first 1000 days, Save the Children recommended the following measures for the national and local governments, private sector and donors to end malnutrition in the Philippines:

·  Equitable nutrition policies and programs and budgetary allocations that address the immediate, underlying and basic causes of malnutrition. 
·  Security of tenure and sustained training of the community front-liners e.g. such as barangay health workers and nutrition officers and scholars. Health and nutrition workers are highly politicized, lack incentives and support for trainings, have no security of tenure, the report said.
·  Clear and separate budget for nutrition-specific interventions to avoid confusion between health and nutrition budgets.
·  Intensification of health and nutrition-related training, research and extension support activities to support the First 1000 Days Program through the Barangay Integrated Development Approach for Nutrition Improvement Network Program of the Rural Poor and other relevant approaches, thereby strengthening delivery systems in partnership with the local governments.
·  Scaling up of cost-effective and affordable high-impact nutrition interventions to prevent undernutrition that cripples the country, such as promotion of exclusive breastfeeding, complementary feeding, vitamin A and iron supplementation, treatment of acute malnutrition and maternal nutrition.
·  Stronger enforcement of the Milk Code (Executive Order Number 51), and the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act (Republic Act Number 10028) to protect, promote, and support optimal infant and young child feeding, both in private and public facilities and spaces.

Save the Children also said the conditionalities under the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program must include mandatory breastfeeding and education sessions on infant and young child feeding. (MindaNews)