By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
To increase awareness on the importance of proper nutrition, the Department of Education (DepEd) enjoined all public and private schools to participate in the celebration of the 2019 Nutrition Month this July.
With theme “Kumain nang wasto at maging aktibo… Push natin ‘to!,” DepEd said that the Nutrition Month celebration aims to “promote the consumption of healthy diets, increased physical activity, and reduced sedentary behavior through activities of daily living among individuals and families.” The observation of the Nutrition Month is led by the National Nutrition Council (NCC).
During the Nutrition Month celebration, DepEd also reminded school heads to highlight the policy and guidelines on healthy food and beverage choices among learners. Earlier, Education Secretary Leonor Briones issued a directive which enumerated policy and guidelines on healthy food and beverage choices in schools and in DepEd offices” for the “promotion and development of healthy eating habits among the youth and DepEd employees by making available healthy, nutritious, and affordable menu choices, and for setting food standards.”
To promote the consumption of healthier foods and to discourage the eating of unhealthy foods among learners, DepEd has enjoined all schools to participate in this year’s Nutrition Month celebration by “undertaking meaningful activities which will highlight the importance of good nutrition, healthy diet and healthy lifestyle.”
Schools, through the Nutrition Month celebration, should also to create awareness among learners on “making the right choices of food” and to “encourage food industry, producers, distributors, and farmers and make healthy foods available for all.”
In time for Nutrition Month being observed every July, Save the Children Philippines urged mothers to exclusively breastfeed their newborns as malnutrition remains on steady rise among babies and pre-schoolers in the country.
Save the Children Philippines Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Albert Muyot said community health and nutrition workers should intensify campaigns on breastfeeding, complementary feeding and proper nutrition particularly among children of deprived families and marginalized communities.
Muyot, who is a former Undersecretary of the DepEd, also raised concern over the results of the 2018 Expanded National Nutrition Survey by the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI) presented last June which showed increasing prevalence of malnutrition and anemia among babies and toddlers.
The nutrition survey, Muyot said, should serve as “a wake-up call.” Citing additional data, the group noted that “anemia cases among babies six to 11 months increased to 48.2 per cent in 2018 from 40.5 per cent in 2013, while anemia among toddlers aged one to two years old have increased to 35.4 per cent last year from 24.7 per cent in 2013” while stunting— a life threatening condition due to chronic undernutrition— “remains high at 36.6 per cent for children two years old in 2018, from 36.2 per cent in 2013.”
Malnutrition among pre-schoolers is also high particularly among three years old at 33.8 per cent in 2018 from 38.6 in 2013; and four years old at 30.2 percent last year from 36.8 in 2013,” Save the Children Philippines said.
To help address these, Muyot noted that “exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months and continued breastfeeding up to two years old will provide critical nutrients and protection to infants against life threatening diseases and improve their immune system.” Globally, the group noted that “exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months prevents deaths of 1.3 million children below five years old every year.”
Save the Children Philippines has also been campaigning to eradicate malnutrition among children through maternal and child health and nutrition programs for children and pregnant and lactating mothers in deprived areas in the cities of Malabon, Navotas and Caloocan of Metro Manila as well as conflict affected areas of Mindanao.
Muyot urged local leaders to implement Republic Act 11148 or the First 1,000 Days Law that ensures optimum health and nutrition for children from conception up to two years old. He said the first 1,000 days of a child’s life is considered a “critical window of opportunity” when physical growth and brain development are very crucial, and damage could be permanent or irreversible. “We call on local government leaders to invest in safe motherhood and children’s health and well-being by providing more funds for maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition programs,” said he added.
Meanwhile, Save the Children Philippines Health and Nutrition Advisor Dr. Amado Parawan said government programs on maternal and child health and nutrition should focus on priority areas with high malnutrition rates – mostly in conflict affected areas in Mindanao.
“Malnutrition is a very complex problem with long-term effects physically, mentally and socially,” Parawan said. “With the passage of RA 11148, now is the perfect time to mobilize collaborative actions from all sectors…we should always remember that takes a village to raise and nurture a child,” he ended.
Save the Children Philippines is implementing Nutrition among Urban Poor Through Unified Response (NURTURE) project in 8 pilot barangays of Navotas, which aims to contribute to the reduction of deaths under-5 girls and boys through improved health and nutrition among children and their mothers/caregivers.
The project implements nutrition-specific and nutrition sensitive interventions focusing on the first 1,000 days of life preventing stunting and wasting and improving maternal nutrition. It also emphasizes the involvement of men and family members in all the interventions as part of the support system within the household.
Among the strategies of NURTURE project are the establishment of Supplemental Feeding Program or Dietary Supplementation, establishment of a functional Out-patient Care (OTC), establishment of two-way functioning referral In-patient Care, community mobilization and partnership for multi-sectoral convergence, and social protection support through Conditional Cash Transfer.