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When kids are mal- or under-nourished

07:33 AM December 14, 2014

I still remember the “nutribun”—a high-calorie bread that was distributed to school children during the martial law years supposedly under the auspices of the then first lady, Imelda Marcos.

It was actually during the onslaught of a major typhoon and floods that had devastated Central Luzon and Metro Manila that I first got a taste of the bread. A student activist group of which I was part was organizing relief drives, and a government agency had given us nutribuns to put into the relief packs. Some friends helped themselves to samples, and I joined in. I remember first of all how dense the bread was, and then how heavily it sat in my belly for the rest of the day. Developed supposedly to fight malnutrition among Filipino children, the nutribun became a symbol of the then just-growing public awareness drive on childhood malnutrition and undernutrition in our midst.

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So isn’t it a shame—not to say a scandal—that even today, almost 40 years after the first nutribuns made the scene, childhood malnutrition, undernutrition, stunting and hunger continue to be major challenges to the growth and development of Filipino children?

Well, here’s another stab at eradicating the scourge of malnutrition among our kids, this time conducted with a lot more media hype and savvy with the help of new communications technology and the goodwill of a host of partners, who have banded together in a campaign called “United for Healthier Kids,” or U4HK.

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The campaign is spearheaded by Nestlé Philippines in collaboration with the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology, Facebook, the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. and other partners.

At the Rockwell Tent a few days ago, the partners and other supporters of the initiative gathered to launch U4HK, which “aims to work with parents in providing children aged 4-12 years old with adequate nutrition.” The campaign was sparked by findings (in the 2013 National Nutrition Survey) that about 30 percent—or a third—of Filipino children are undernourished. This condition can and does lead to serious health complications in childhood and later in life, including stunting and intellectual deficiencies, and, much later, high blood pressure, heart disease and even, ironically, obesity.

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ONE would think, given the grim statistics and the dismaying news, that an event such as the launch of U4HK would be “grim and determined.”

Instead, it was marked by music and dance, as well as a dinner marked by simple and healthy dishes.

For as Nestlé Philippines chair and CEO John Miller observed: “The good news is, there is something we can do about it.” Acknowledging the distance that has yet to be traveled, Miller reminded everyone that “the journey always starts with the first step.” And in getting U4HK off the ground, Nestlé and its partners have embarked on a journey to save children’s lives and improve their future.

Charo Santos-Concio, ABS-CBN president and CEO, noted that the network “has the privilege to be welcomed in every Filipino home every day. We will take this opportunity to help promote a healthier Filipino lifestyle.”

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Indeed, as information material stressed, just because a child is full or sated after a meal doesn’t mean that the child has been well fed. What matters is the quality (not the quantity) of the food and nutrients that are contained in a meal, and the balance of nutrients needed to ensure good health and wellbeing. In this the media will be a big help in creating proper awareness and inspiring action.

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SANDRA Castro Puno, communications director of Nestlé Philippines, described U4HK as “a partnership rooted in science, powered by creativity and united to help parents raise a healthier generation of children.” Scientific data, research studies and behavioral science will be the basis for information shared with parents, Puno added, to influence behavior change and encourage the shift to healthy eating and lifestyle habits.

The FNRI is currently engaged in research for ingredients and recipes that are not only cost-effective but also give more “bang for the buck,” delivering vitamins and other nutrients to improve the health of children, while being accessible, affordable and easy to prepare. But before such recipes and dishes can be propagated, parents, especially mothers, will first need to be convinced to shift their priorities and prepare meals that not just taste good but are healthy as well.

To win them over, U4HK, with the help of ABS-CBN, aired TV commercials highlighting the issue of undernutrition and urging parents to submit photos of their children as a sign of their commitment to the cause. Over 50,000 photos of children were received, which were then posted on the U4HK Facebook page. The U4HK TV commercials posted in YouTube have since gained 800,000 views, and counting.

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SPECIAL guests at the U4HK launch were the Aquino sisters, including Kris who led the opening prayer, with child performers from Trumpets theater company. This augurs well for the future of the campaign, heralding much-needed government support for this campaign for the future of our children.

The real stars of the night, though, were children: children on stage, and children on screen, whose images had been sent to the U4HK Facebook page by their parents and, with the help of technology, digitally converted and converged into two “faces.” Dubbed the “Faces of the Future,” these images are now depicted on two sets of commemorative coins minted for U4HK by the Bangko Sentral.

An official “anthem,” especially commissioned and composed by Robert Labayen (words), Yeng Constantino and Mike Villegas (music) was also featured as the night drew to a close.

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TAGS: ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp., Central Luzon, Charo Santos-Concio, childhood malnutrition, communications technology, Department of Science and Technology, facebook, FNRI, Food and Nutrition Research Institute, Imelda Marcos, Nutribun, Rockwell Tent, Sandra Castro Puno
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