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HEALTHY NANAY, HEALTHY BULILIT: SCALING UP NUTRITION FOR THE 1ST 1000 DAYS

This is for our children.

Despite global efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition, undernutrition remains to be among the leading cause of death of children with more than 2.6 million deaths annually. Studies have shown that poor nutrition weakens the immune systems of children, making them vulnerable to common diseases such as diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria. Poor nutrition in the early years likewise results in stunting, wasting, low-birth weight, and micronutrient deficiencies. The early years of life are a crucial period of mental and physical development; malnutrition at this critical junction creates irreversible damage to children.

The effects of undernourishment during the first 1000 days do not stop at childhood, and unfortunately, the children suffer from this damage even when they become adults. Stunting or the failure to grow to proper height has been shown to be associated with greater risk for disease, poor health, poor school performance, poor productivity and lower earning capacity as adults. Malnutrition is the agent by which poverty viciously perpetuates itself.

Sadly, millions of children do not have the opportunity to reach their full potential because of poor nutrition in the earliest months of their lives. The Food and Nutrition Research Institutes (FNRI) estimates that close to 1/3 of Filipinos under five years old are stunted. Notably, the prevalence is highest among the poorest 20% of the population with close to half of poor children being short for their age.

Investment in good nutrition during the critical 1,000 days from pregnancy to a child's second birthday is crucial to developing a child's cognitive capacity and physical growth. Ensuring that every child receives the adequate nutrition and is provided the critical health services during this window can yield dividends for a lifetime, allowing them to perform better in school, more effectively fight off diseases, earn more as an adult, and become healthy, productive citizens.

This is for our mothers.

There is an inextricable link between the well-being of mothers and their children. Undernourished mothers are more likely to suffer difficult pregnancies and give birth to undernourished children themselves. They are also vulnerable to increased risk of death or giving birth to a pre-term, underweight or malnourished infant.

Studies have shown that when mothers have health care, education and economic opportunity, both mother and child will have the best chance to survive and thrive. However, an alarming number of mothers in developing countries, like the Philippines, are not getting the nutrition and healthcare they need.

This is for our future.

Malnutrition costs many developing nations an estimated two to three percent (2-3%) of their GDP each year. Available data shows that stunted children will earn less on average as adults. In fact, the loss of human potential resulting from stunting was associated with 20 per cent (20%) less adult income on average.

Globally, the direct cost of child malnutrition is estimated at $20 to $30 billion per year. For the Philippines in 2013, it was estimated that there was ?328 billion lost of income as a result of lower level of education by the working population who suffered from childhood stunting, lost productivity due to premature deaths among children who would have been members of our current working-age population, and from additional education costs to cover grade repetitions linked to undernutrition.

This three hundred twenty-eight billion (?328 billion) amounted to three per cent (3%) of the Philippine GDP in 2013. Yet, our government's investment in nutrition programs to combat malnutrition is only at 0.52% of government expenditures compared to the global average spending of 2.1 %.

The DOH and National Nutrition Council (NNC) budget for nutrition programs for all age groups in 2017 amounting to Php1.9 billion only accounts for 1.3% of the total national government allocation for the health sector. It's uncertain how much local government units invest in nutrition programs but based on consultations with the various stakeholders in the community, local government investment for nutrition programs has a lot of room for improvement. The figures speak of a glaring finding that for every-one dollar ($1) spent on programs to prevent stunting during first 1000 days, the Philippines could save over one hundred dollars ($100) in health, education, and lost productivity costs.

Undernutrition during the first 1000 days is critical to the future health, well-being, and success of a child. It affects the child's ability to grow, learn and become productive adults.

Poor nutrition harms our children, our mothers, our nation. It can impede economic growth and it can extend the cycle of poverty.

We need to scale up nutrition during the first 1000 days of life. We have to make sure that the fight against malnutrition is a priority of both the national and the local government and that these agencies and LGUs are provided the adequate support to plan and implement the programs that will ensure that we have Healthy Nanays to give birth to Healthy Bulilits who, in turn, will grow up to become Healthy Pinoys and Pinays for healthier and a more progressive Philippines.

Source: Senate of the Philippines

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