Whose business is malnutrition?
For a country praised for its macroeconomic stability, its ability to sustain growth, and its young, talented workforce, the Philippines has yet to translate its GDP growth rate into prosperity that can be felt on our plates. While our GDP was hitting as high as 7.1 percent in recent years, the Philippines missed out on our Millennium Development Goal to curb malnutrition by half.
The Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) estimates that as of 2015, 31.2 percent of children in the country aged 5-10 years were underweight, with the problem impacting 82.2 percent of children in the poorest socioeconomic classes. When the FNRI looked at height for age, an indicator of the long-term impact of malnutrition, it found that 31.1 percent of children in the same age group were underheight.
Our school-age children are already bearing the burden of malnutrition. This impacts school attendance and performance as well as future productivity. How can we build on our current economic gains if our next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs, inventors, and artists suffer from these compounding problems?
At Nestlé, we developed a program called United for Healthier Kids (U4HK). Globally, the primary focus of the program is combating childhood obesity through nutrition
education, giving families the knowledge and resources they need in order to make smarter decisions. When we launched U4HK in the Philippines in 2014, we focused on malnutrition, as this is the bigger problem for the country. Our initial efforts focused on nutrition education, including: working with the FNRI to make information on the “Pinggang Pinoy” more accessible; partnering with dzMM for a radio show for parents; and collaborating with the NGO Hapag-Asa for a nutrition education module.
We recognized that we cannot ignore the role of poverty in the inability of parents to provide their kids with proper nutrition. We cannot educate people on what to eat when they do not enjoy access to nutritious food to begin with. If we are to reduce the incidence of malnutrition, we have to think of new ways to ensure that every Filipino has sustainable access to nutritious food and safe drinking water.
One of the ways in which we can help address this is to use our knowledge of nutrition science, expertise in consumer marketing, and partnerships with local experts to support organizations engaged in direct interventions. We are now building a platform that would encourage community-based volunteerism and impact investing. A critical component of this platform is bringing together organizations working on four key issues that impact the nutritional status of children: access to food, nutrition education, nutrition in disaster, and water, sanitation and hygiene.
We found that there is a need for a pointed delivery of nutrition education, to help parents make good choices while taking into consideration their finances. When a natural disaster hits the country, it impacts the livelihood of farmers and raises food prices, making disaster preparedness programs critical. We also need to take a closer look at water, sanitation and hygiene, because diseases acquired through unhygienic practices could impact a child’s health.
Adopting a more systemic approach to hunger and malnutrition becomes of paramount importance, because not one entity can solve these problems. It needs the collective commitment of the private sector and the facilitation from the public sector, along with the spirit of volunteerism and generosity from the general public.
For the Philippines to combat malnutrition and achieve its full potential, ecosystem thinking and social innovation need to be the new norm. We need to be investing in our communities with shared prosperity in mind. Our hope is that businesses, NGOs, government agencies, and all Filipinos will collaborate to address hunger and malnutrition, and ultimately secure a healthier, more prosperous future for every Filipino child.
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Paolo Mercado is senior vice president for marketing, communication, and innovation at Nestlé Philippines Inc.
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