IN 2014, a report by the Association of Southeast Nations ranked the Philippines the second shortest race in the region: the average Filipino male stood at 5 feet and 3.7 inches, and the average Filipino female was at 4 feet and 11 inches.
While Filipinos’ shorter stature has typically been assumed to be attributed to genetics, a recent Save the Children study has found that shortness could be due to other factors.
In a report by Save the Children, “Sizing Up: The Stunting and Child Malnutrition Problem in the Philippines,” the non-governmental organization states that one in three Filipinos endures stunted growth, a characteristic of chronic malnutrition.
“The assumption has always been that Filipinos are just genetically short but what we actually see now are generations of stunted and malnourished children,” said Dr. Amado Parawan, Save the Children’s Health and Nutrition advisor.
Because the lack of height is considered a racial trait, Parawan said it is not perceived as a serious concern.
“Stunting is more than just being short, it impacts children’s future because it hinders physical and mental growth,” Parawan said.
While there has been a decline in the number of child deaths in the Philippines, the slow and varying rates at which child malnutrition and stunting is curbed affects efforts to alleviate poverty. It is also likely to hold back economic growth.
In a World Bank study, it was found that each 1 percent loss in adult height due to stunting equates to a 1.4 percent decrease in economic activity, Rappler reported.
Throughout the last 20 years, stunting in the Philippines has only decreased by 9 percent from 39 percent in 1993 to 30 percent in 2013, according to the National Nutrition Survey in 2013; from 2011 to 2013, the improvement was at 0.3 percent, Rappler reported. Additionally, the Philippines is among the 14 countries from which 80 percent of the world’s stunted children come, according to the publication.
“We have not done so much to correct or end stunting,” Parawan said. “We should prioritize chronic child malnutrition because stunting is one of its forms.”
nutrition survey indicates that households in rural and urban environments, as well as those who live in disaster-prone areas are at a higher risk of malnutrition – especially stunting.
The first 1,000 days of a child – from conception until its second birthday – is a critical time period in preventing stunting, according to the Save the Children report. Studies have revealed that children who failed to reach optimum growth within that window are at increased risk of impaired cognitive development, which results in a negative impact on their performance in school, among other areas, according to the report..
“Malnutrition has adversely affected labor force and productivity later in life,” said Assistant Secretary of Health Gerardo Bayugo, according to Rappler. “All these point to the same direction that if you care for this country, we must invest in the health and nutrition of our children because they are the future of the Philippines.”
In response to malnutrition in the Philippines, Save the Children launched a campaign called Lahat Dapat (No Child Left Behind) that urges the government and public to increase its efforts in addressing the issue: a campaign video states that 1.5 Filipino children go to bed hungry every night after going through the whole day without eating.
“If we’re going to solve the problem, everybody will have to work. We have to get our acts together and involve all partners, all sectors to solve the problem of child malnutrition,” Bayugo said, according to Rappler.