Nutrition is an indispensable aspect of one’s health. It is an important indicator of a nation’s development, especially that globally, malnutrition is a big problem that needs to be solved.

The Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) is mandated to assess the nutritional status of the country through the National Nutrition Survey (NNS), which is conducted every five years. The latest survey, the 8th NNS, was conducted in 2013.

In 2018, an Expanded National Nutrition Survey (ENNS) updated the recent data from FNRI’s previous surveys. Just before the National Nutrition Month this July, the results of the ENNS were presented during the 2019 National Nutrition Summit at Dusit Thani Manila last June 25.

Compiled and published on FNRI’s Web site, results were classified into infants and young children (0-23 months), preschool children (2-5 years old), school children (6-10 years), adolescents (10-19 years), women of reproductive age (15-49 years), adults (20-59 years), and elderly (60 and above).

Among infants and young children, stunting, or impaired height for age, remains highly prevalent, especially among 12-23 months old who recorded 36.6% prevalence.

Anemia, or the condition of having less than the normal number of red blood cells, also have high prevalence, specifically among six to 11-month-old infants. Compared to infants aged 12-23 months (35.4%), infants aged 6-11 months got 48.2%.

In a span of seven years, “exclusive breast-feeding among 0-5 months old significantly improved.” From 48.8% in 2015, the number was raised to 54.9%. However, “the rate of breast-feeding exclusively until 5.9 months duration remains low.”

“Young children meeting the minimum acceptable diet is very low, particularly among infants 6-11 months,” FNRI added. From a rate of 18.6% in 2015, the rate of young children meeting minimum acceptable diet went down to 13.4% in 2018.

Among preschool children, the research stated that stunting “remains to be of high magnitude.” It decreased from 33.4% to 30.3%.

Overweight is becoming a problem as the child grows older. Prevalence of 2.9% was recorded among 2-year-olds. Five percent was recorded among 3-year-olds, 4.8% among 4-year-olds, and 9.2% among 5-year-olds.

“A decreasing trend in anemia prevalence was observed with a slight increase from 2013 to 2018,” FNRI added.

Among school children, the prevalence of stunting and underweight decreased from figures in 2015. Stunting went down from 31.1% to 24.5%. Underweight decreased from 31.2% to 25%. However, FNRI still regards them as public health problems “of high severity”.

Overweight among this group is “a growing problem.” From 8.4% in 2015, it was raised to 11.7% in 2018.

An increase in anemia prevalence was also seen, “affecting most of the six years old with moderate severity.” Prevalence of 23.5% was recorded for 6-year-olds, while lower than 20% was recorded for succeeding ages within this group.

Among adolescents, stunting recorded a significant decrease from 31.9% to 26.3%. Wasting, or low weight for height, slightly decreased from 12.5% to 11.3%. Overweight and obese adolescents, meanwhile, grew from 9.2% to 11.6%.

“Anemia remains a problem of mild public health significance especially among females, 13-19 years old,” FNRI added.

In addition, FNRI found 10 to 12-year-olds having pockets of Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD), or lack of iodine.

Notably, most adolescents were deemed insufficient in physical activity particularly among 10 to 17-year-old females. Current smokers decreased from 5.5% to 4%.

Among non-pregnant and lactating women as well as lactating mothers of reproductive age, chronic energy deficiency (CED), defined as “intake of energy less than the requirement, for a period of several months or years,” has decreased significantly.

Significant decreases in IDD were also tallied. From 21.7% in 2013, IDD prevalence decreased to 11.3% for non-pregnant and lactating women in 2018. The same is also found among lactating women, from 33.1% to 21.2%.

Overweight, obesity, and anemia are growing problems among this subgroup, albeit anemia has decreased.

The number of nutritionally-at-risk pregnant women have decreased, although not significantly. From 27.% in 2015, it decreased to 20.1%.

Anemia “remains a problem of moderate public health significance” among pregnant women, since prevalence increased from 24.6% in 2013 to 26.1% in 2018.

Among adults, CED significantly declined from 9% in 2015 to 6.9% in 2018. However, overweight prevalence increased from 24.7% to 28.8% and obesity increased from 7.2% to 9.6%.

Anemia is of “mild public health significance,” with a prevalence of 8.3%.

“Elevated blood pressure significantly declined, while high fasting blood sugar increased,” FNRI added.

While there was a decline in smoking, there are more than half of current drinkers engaged in binge drinking. It was also noted that physical inactivity did not change, with 40.6% prevalence.

Among the elderly, the prevalence of CED significantly declined, from 17.2% in 2015 to 13.4% in 2018. Overweight increased from 21.3% to 24.7%. Anemia is “of ‘moderate’ public health significance, with 20.2% prevalence.

“Elevated blood pressure significantly declined but high fasting blood sugar increased,” FNRI added.

While there was also a decline in smoking among elders, four in every 10 are engaged in binge drinking. Half of them are found to be physically inactive.

As reflected in this survey, while problems in nutrition are being addressed, more needs to be done in improving the nutritional state of Filipinos. FNRI suggests that creative or innovative strategies must be formed to further address these problems, from stunting among children to physical inactivity among adults. — Adrian Paul B. Conoza