IMPLEMENTATION of nutrition policy needs to be improved to address undernutrition among Filipino children, a Zuellig Family Foundation official said.

“We are not lacking in good nutrition laws. We are also not lacking in assessment reports,” he said. “Our challenge really is implementation,” Zuellig Family Foundation Chairman Ernesto D. Garilao said at the launch of a World Bank report on undernutrition.

Local governments are key to implementing such laws, he said, but noted limited understanding of nutrition challenges among public officials.

“Oftentimes, it is reduced to feeding (programs). But the multi-sectoral approach is just not there.”

Mr. Garilao said that the heads of local governments must have targets to address nutritional issues to guide the investment of resources into programs with specific goals. Current programs should also be coordinated, he added.

The World Bank on Tuesday released its report, Undernutrition in the Philippines: Scale, Scope, and Opportunities for Nutrition Policy and Programming.

It found that the coronavirus pandemic has compounded high rates of food insecurity and stunted growth among Filipino children.

“The Philippines has the basic infrastructure to deliver essential nutritional investments to its people. But the delivery mechanisms are fragmented, and gaps may have widened as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the World Bank said.

Childhood stunting in the Philippines is at 30%, making it one of the top 10 countries for this particular indicator, it said.

“The country’s rate of stunting is high not only for its level of income but also compared with the rates of most of its neighbors. Other countries with similar levels of income have rates of stunting averaging around 20%.”

The report found that municipalities face common problems when implementing nutrition interventions. Municipalities have insufficient funding for programs and lack full-time nutrition and health staff. Nutrition is rarely a priority for local government units (LGUs) that focus on other infrastructure projects, the World Bank said, leaving non-government organizations to fund nutrition programs.

LGUs also lack reliable information on their nutrition problems and progress.

“Increasing the budget allocation and providing a separate budget for nutrition would demonstrate strong support for the nutrition agenda of the LGUs,” the report said.

“Both executive and legislative bodies in the municipalities need to prioritize and vigorously support nutrition interventions.” — Jenina P. Ibañez