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The ‘food insecurity’ emergency

Last week was the first revelation of a pandemic-time government survey on hunger, in the item, “Palace saddened by survey suggesting 60% of Pinoys hungry” (philstar.com, 5/3/21). It reported the finding of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute’s 2020 Rapid Nutrition Assessment Survey (RNAS, done on 11/3/20-12/3/20) that moderate plus severe “food insecurity” had risen to 62.1 percent of households during the pandemic, from 40.2 percent the year before.

The 2019 Expanded National Nutrition Survey (ENNS). Two years ago, for its 2019 ENNS, FNRI had defined a “food insecure” household as one going through: (1) worry about food, (2) inability to eat preferred foods, (3) eating just a few kinds of foods, (4) eating foods they really do not want to eat, (5) eating smaller meals, (6) eating fewer meals a day, (7) no food of any kind in the household, (8) going to sleep hungry, and (9) going a whole day and night without eating.

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FNRI classifies a household as “food secure” if it experienced none of the 9 events in a 30-day recall period. It is “mildly food insecure” if it never worried about food, and went through events 2-9 at most twice. It is “moderately food insecure” if it experienced any event from 3 to 10 times. It is “severely food insecure” if it experienced any event more than 10 times. But the proportions experiencing each event, and the number of times each was experienced, have not been disclosed.

The ENNS had a national sample of 49,042 households, drawn for all 81 provinces and 33 highly urbanized cities (HUC) of the Philippines, or a total of 114 study areas. There are separate data for 2018 and 2019; I’m curious as to when were the field periods for each year. Assuming a separate report for each study area, the ENNS had an average sample of 430 households per area—which is quite adequate, with an error margin of plus/minus 5 percentage points. I trust every provincial governor and HUC mayor was given her/his own report. The ENNS design is modest for an area, but comprehensive in terms of geographical detail.

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The last National Nutrition Summit (8/4/20), disclosed the dire ENNS finding that food insecurity (the total of mild, moderate, and severe) had jumped by 10 points, to 64.1 percent of households in 2019 from 53.9 percent in 2018. The summit report, “What does our 2019 data say: are we on track?” was subtitled, “More families need more food even before the pandemic” (fnri.dost.gov.ph; my italics).

From 2018 to 2019, the mildly insecure rose from 12.3 to 17.2 percent, the moderately insecure rose from 28.8 to 33.3 percent, and the severely insecure rose from 12.8 to 13.6 percent. Every percentage point, mind you, amounts to over 200,000 households at the national level.

The 2020 Rapid Nutrition Assessment Survey was attuned to the pandemic. The 2020 RNAS was much smaller in size (5,717 households) than the 2019 ENNS (49,042), obviously so as to get the findings more quickly. In short, the RNAS was a re-interviewed subsample of the ENNS sample the year before.

However, the selection of sample areas for the RNAS was aligned to the primary interest of relating food security to the pandemic. The areas were pre-grouped into “high risk,” “moderate risk,” and “low risk” with respect to COVID-19 infection, and then three areas were selected from each risk group, hoping the three would represent Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, respectively. Ultimately, only nine areas were chosen for the RNAS: Parañaque City, Lapu-Lapu City, Pateros, Pangasinan, Southern Leyte, Zamboanga City, Angeles City, Guimaras, and South Cotabato.

In relation to the pandemic, the RNAS sample was 23 percent high risk (the first three), 42 percent moderate risk (the middle three), and 34 percent low risk (the last three). The RNAS found that food insecurity was not as bad in the high COVID-19-risk areas as in the moderate and low COVID-19-risk areas—implying that food and economic help should be targeted as needed, rather than linked to COVID-19.

In terms of geography, the RNAS samples were 10 percent (too little) Metro Manila, 30 percent (too little) Balance Luzon, 33 percent (too much) Visayas, and 27 percent (good enough) Mindanao, and hence not a good representation of the Philippines. I wouldn’t be too confident that the trend of food insecurity in the RNAS is accurate for the national level.

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TAGS: COVID-19, food, nutrition, pandemic, survey
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