Investing in the ‘First 1,000 Days’ | Inquirer Opinion

Investing in the ‘First 1,000 Days’

The “First 1,000 Days” of life, which span from conception to a child’s second birthday, is a critical period of growth and development. According to the Philippine Pediatric Society, “the right nutrition delivered at the right time within this 1,000-day window can have a profound impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn, and rise out of poverty.”

Republic Act No. 11148 or the Health and Nutrition of Mother and Child Act of 2018, aims to prioritize nutrition for adolescent females, pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants, and young children, focusing on expanding nutrition programs during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.

However, there is still a need to ensure the law’s effective implementation and maximize its impact and reach across the country. Currently, 95 children die from malnutrition every day. About 27 out of 1,000 Filipino children do not get past their fifth birthday, and 33 percent are stunted or short for their age. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, stunting in early life can result in poor cognition and educational performance, low wages, lost productivity, and when accompanied by excessive weight gain later in childhood, an increased risk of nutrition-related chronic diseases in adult life.

Why does it matter? Children are the country’s future workforce, and investing in their health and education ensures they grow up to become productive members of society.


By ensuring children get the nutrition they need during the first 1,000 days, chronic diseases and disabilities are prevented, reducing the demand for costly medical treatments, and alleviating the strain on our health-care system and budgets.

Children who get the right nutrition are also more likely to perform better academically, leading to higher levels of educational attainment and increased earning potential in adulthood. A highly educated or more skilled workforce in turn contributes more to economic growth and competitiveness.

Lessons from other countries. Thailand has already made significant progress in meeting World Health Assembly goals to increase children’s birth weight and the rate of exclusive breastfeeding while decreasing the stunting rate among children under 5 years old. These were achieved by improving antenatal care and well-child clinics and expanding health coverage. Sustained budgetary support, engaging local government units and nonhealth personnel, enabled the effective implementation of those programs.

Guatemala ensured that interventions were tailored to local needs and cultural contexts, which helped enhance the effectiveness of nutrition programs. Its government fostered a sense of ownership and accountability among community members, helping improve maternal and child health outcomes.


Peru showed remarkable consistency in prioritizing early childhood development regardless of changes in administrations. The sustained allocation of budgetary resources toward the First 1,000 Days reflects Peru’s strong belief that investments in health and education during the formative years are fundamental for long-term socioeconomic development.

Recommendations1. Reallocate a portion of the health and education budget toward the First 1,000 Days. The Philippines invests heavily in secondary education, with a significant portion of the budget allocated to senior high school programs, while the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. has received notable budget increases over the years. Redirecting some of these funds toward initiatives targeting the first 1,000 days can yield substantial long-term benefits.


Research by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman has shown that every $1 invested in early childhood development programs can yield a return of $4 up to $16 in economic and social benefits.

2. Comprehensive policies supporting maternal and child health, nutrition, early education, and parenting support services. While there have been initial strides in implementing maternal and child health programs, there remains a need for integrated policies that cover the entire continuum of care, from pregnancy to early childhood. This includes building more breastfeeding stations, providing prenatal and postnatal care services, and access to parenting education and support.

3. Encourage more public-private partnerships. This involves collaboration among government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, conglomerates, health-care providers, and educators to leverage resources, expertise, and best practices. They can facilitate the alignment of policies, programs, and services across different sectors, ensuring a more cohesive and integrated approach to promoting maternal and child health and well-being in the country.

Investing earnestly in the First 1,000 Days holds the key to a brighter future for the Philippines. By shifting our focus, uniting our efforts, and learning from successful approaches, we can pave the way for healthier generations and a more productive labor force. It’s an opportunity to redefine our narrative and sow the seeds for sustained health and prosperity for generations to come.


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Gary B. Teves served as finance secretary under the Arroyo administration.


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