Friday, August 22, 2008

Squaring off with malnutrition

SWARTHY-LOOKING cuddly ball of fun and sun, 4-year old toddler Clarence Day Tog-aco of Puguis-- a village in the upper rim overlooking Trinidad Valley in the Benguet part of the Cordilleras-- polishes off everything his mom offers him. Boiled chunks of sayote, kamote or gabi; fistfuls of parboiled crisp watercress; sticks of carrots, mustard or radish raw and crunchy; helpings of steamed saluyot tops; a leg of chicken pinikpikan; a wee tidbit of hearth-smoked pork called inasin; floret after floret of broccoli, mostly greens that most kids his age would squirm at, push away or refuse to sink their teeth on.

His mom confesses to a fondness for such humble fare. She has passed on that food fondness to her son, likely in keeping with the counsel of Israel’s King Solomon, “Teach a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Compared to children in other parts of the country, one among five kids in the mountainous Cordillera region—the highest consumer of veggies among the nation’s 16 regions, according to statistics-- is underweight. Bicol has the highest number of underweight kids-- two of every five children among 0-5 year olds. Statistics also show that there were about 4 million underweight pre-school children in 2001.

Underweight children points up malnutrition among our young. Experts from the Food Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) have estimated that it will take the Philippines more than 50 years before the problem of undernutrition can be totally eradicated.

Malnutrition aside, prevalence of anemia among infants to over 1-year olds has remained unabated since 1993. Fact is, anemia in this age group has increased from 49.2 percent to an alarming rate of 66%-- or 2 of every three Filipino children are anemic!

Mourn and moan: Brain and muscle debilities resulting from iron deficiency in childhood cannot be reversed by iron therapy in adolescence, as nutrition experts have it. That means those iron-deficient children won’t realize their full potential. That means two of every three future Filipinos are impaired in both brain and brawn, in psyche and sinew… And didn’t FNRI experts say it will take the Philippines more than 50 years before the problem of undernutrition can be totally eradicated?

Say, the typical Filipino diet remains rice and fish boiled with a little vegetable—which translates to less than 90% of the food energy the body needs, even lesser for needed nutrients to sustain good health and well-being.

Even so, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes that overweight and obesity are also prevalent in the country affecting a significant proportion of children, adolescents and adults, which predispose them to certain nutrition and health risks. This is evident in the rising trend in the prevalence of diseases of the heart and the vascular system.

In surveys comparing the urban and rural population, FNRI found the urban populace are heavy consumers of prestige foods such as meat, poultry, eggs including milk and milk products. The amounts consumed by those in urban areas were twice the amount consumed in rural areas. However, rural areas consumed more of the cheaper quality foods such as rice and products, corn and products, starchy roots and tubers and all types of vegetables.

Buying the cheaper food items and getting the most in quality nutrients out of food buys seem the most sensible tack. For now. For another, we need to come to grips—and square off-- with the nutrition woes that bedevil our children.

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