Partnerships important in addressing Philippines’ double burden of malnutrition

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THE Philippines is battling the double burden of malnutrition. An estimated seven million children in the country still face hunger and undernutrition, with the economy losing at least P328 billion a year due to the impact of childhood stunting on work force productivity and education.

Research from Save the Children Philippines also found that the country’s investment in nutrition programs is low at only 0.52% of general government expenditure. This is in comparison to the global average of 2.1%.

The report also indicated that in 2013, combined losses as a result of malnutrition were more than triple the cost of damage inflicted by 15 natural disasters that hit the Philippines in 2015. This highlights the heavy impact of malnutrition in the country.

Yet at the same time, the obesity and overweight epidemic is also increasing in the Philippines, affecting around 18 million locals — and this is on an upward trend.

According to the “Tackling Obesity in ASEAN: Prevalence, Impact and Guidance on Interventions” report produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the prevalence of overweight among adults has risen by 24% between 2010 and 2014.

Commissioned by the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN), the report also states that 23.6% of Filipino adults are overweight, with women more affected than men (26.3% and 21% respectively).

This is leading to a huge economic burden in the country. In 2016, obesity cost the Philippines between $500 million and $1 billion, accounting for between four and eight percent of national health care spending. This makes the country the fourth-highest spender for obesity-related problems across the region.

Obesity in the Philippines is largely driven by the lack of exercise and low-quality diets. An April 2017 study by researcher Cecile Klaudine C. Cabigas from the University of the Philippines, outlined that due to growing urbanization and increased incomes, younger Filipinos are now opting for energy-dense and nutrition-poor foods. Physical inactivity is also a significant problem, with many adults not physically active and children lacking places to play.

It is clear the double burden of malnutrition is an important issue that needs to be addressed in the Philippines. To do so, a paradigm shift in focus and strategies is needed. This includes more attention being placed on preventive health care; consumer education on healthy nutrition; and multi-stakeholder partnerships and knowledge exchanges.

Solving the Philippines’ double burden of malnutrition is an inclusive priority between both the public and private sectors — the government cannot solve the problem alone; neither can industry groups.

Strong partnerships and open engagement between all players in both sectors are required given the important roles that each of the parties play in addressing the issues of malnutrition — especially stunting — and obesity.

Government bodies and agencies set the strategic direction for any measures and policies to be implemented, whereas the private sector plays an equally important role by recognizing the significance of promoting healthier and more nutritious choices as a core part of their business.

For example, the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) in the Philippines works with food service establishments in the country through the “Pinggang Pinoy” advocacy group which ensures that appropriate portions are served to consumers. At the same time, food from the different levels of the food pyramid need to be included in each serving to ensure that consumers are eating healthy and nutritious food.

This is just one example of how a multi-stakeholder approach can efficiently reach out to the community. As it is difficult for one sector to work alone to solve the country’s double burden of malnutrition, it is important that there are collaborative efforts between the government, civil society, academia, industry and nongovernmental organizations.

This is where public-private partnerships like ARoFIIN can also be a part of the solution. By bringing the food industry and the private and public sectors together in a strategic alliance to identify and recommend interventions that can have an impact on the Philippines’ malnutrition and obesity problems, ARoFIIN can be a catalyst for change.

For the public and private sectors to collaborate successfully, there has to be transparent and honest dialogue. Companies in the private sector need to identify and be open about any conflicts of interest that their respective businesses may have in relation to the promotion of a healthy and nutritious lifestyle, and manage these appropriately with the public sector.

This transparent engagement will create trust between stakeholders in both sectors, which is important to meet the goal of educating consumers and encouraging a healthier lifestyle. In this fight against the simultaneous issues of malnutrition and obesity, we need serious systematic intervention paired with a multidisciplinary, multi-stakeholder approach.

A great deal is required from various parties to combat and reduce levels of obesity; but at the end of the day, creating trust through an open and honest dialogue between both sectors will ensure there are engaging means taken to solve the double burden in the Philippines for the benefit of all.


The Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN) in Partnership with Dr. Leonora Panlasigui, Dean Emeritus — School of Nutrition, Philippine Women’s University