Closing the summer nutrition gap | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

Closing the summer nutrition gap

/ 05:20 AM April 27, 2018

While summer is a time of leisure and enjoyment for most children, some will find themselves in the precarious situation of having no access to nutritious food and drinking water.

For a country touting the benefits of a young demographic, letting its children go through summer without proper nutrition could potentially contribute to a point where they lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the schoolyear.

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According to a social impact analysis on summer nutrition programs conducted by the US nonprofit No Kid Hungry and consulting firm Deloitte, the summer months can translate to the loss of 10 meals per week per child—a problem that compounds the damage to the health and wellbeing of children in lower-income families. The same report said that without the right nutrition, schoolchildren may be more susceptible to chronic diseases such as iron-deficiency anemia and may be more vulnerable to cognitive decline.

In a conversation, two volunteers from one of our contributing NGOs said that in some lower-income communities, children had to forage for food from the forest or ask their neighbors for food. These children are sometimes expected to take charge of household chores, requiring them to work on an empty stomach.

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This can contribute to a wider achievement gap between lower-income and higher-income students, preventing the former from lifting their families from poverty.

In countries like the Philippines, a growing achievement gap can only lead to greater economic inequality. Thus, it is imperative to invest in nutrition to support the health and wellbeing of younger generations and help communities nationwide.

How can we keep the summer nutrition gap at bay? Some contributing NGOs in our United for Healthier Kids program transition from school-based to community-based feeding programs in summer, typically covering more kids. This transition requires additional resources to keep providing well-balanced meals to school-age children. Donations of cash, food, cooking instruments, and even weighing scales may be made directly to our contributing NGOs to help them sustain their feeding programs over the summer months.

We also encourage interested parties to support our contributing NGOs with projects providing access to safe drinking water as well as water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, such as Waves for Water and the Philippine Red Cross. Sustainable access to safe drinking water would help school-age children fight off infectious diseases such as diarrhea, which hinders the body’s ability to curb the impact of malnutrition.

Volunteering is another way to help close the summer nutrition gap. Our contributing NGOs need volunteers to help in food preparation and distribution, and in engaging the children in activities such as arts and crafts and tutorial sessions. Volunteers may also support our NGOs by helping educate parents and guardians on how they can meet their child’s nutritional needs.

Lastly, interested individuals may work with their churches, civil society organizations, and even workplaces to establish new feeding centers. A contributing NGO, Reach Out and Feed Philippines, seeks donations of P5,000 to fund meal ingredients and daily volunteers to start a new feeding site. Another contributing NGO, Gawad Kalinga, has a central feeding program model that makes it easier to collaborate with the local government and its public school.

They can also partner with East West Seed Foundation to set up community gardens, which may later provide the produce for the meals and even serve as an alternate source of livelihood for the community.

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Malnutrition does not take a break. We need to turn our individual efforts to community-level interventions such as establishing feeding programs that can provide daily support, securing access to safe drinking water, educating parents, teachers, and community leaders, and working with communities to monitor the results of these feeding programs.

Addressing community needs in access to food, nutrition education, and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) will provide a solid foundation on which our children can build. If we can ensure that each child gets access to well-balanced meals and safe drinking water daily, we will not only help them grow into happy, healthy adults, but also put our communities on the road to sustainable, inclusive growth.

Paolo Mercado is senior vice president for communication, marketing, and innovation for Nestlé Philippines Inc.

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TAGS: drinking water, nutritious food, summer
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