Malnutrition’s impact: $4.5 billion a year – Business Mirror

THE Philippine government must spend $1 billion in 10 years to eliminate malnutrition and sustain the momentum of its economic growth, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

The economic
impact of malnutrition is equivalent to $4.5 billion a year, or 3 percent of
GDP annually, according to Unicef Philippines Nutrition Specialist Rene Gerard
C. Galera Jr. The amount represents health costs, as well as lost productivity
and lost opportunities of the country’s future work force.

“[This is equivalent
to] a third of the damages lost to [Supertyphoon] Yolanda. We have to consider
that as much as an economic cost, we have to invest in it too,” Galera told
reporters in a news briefing at the launch of the State of the World’s Children
report in Makati City on Wednesday.

“That’s why
it’s actually cheaper to invest in nutrition and you can do so much with [this
amount],” he told the BusinessMirror
on the sidelines of the event.

The economic
losses are only one part of the problem since the quality of the Filipino work
force is also at stake. Around 30.3 percent of children are stunted in the
Philippines.

Unicef said
Filipino kids suffer the “triple burden of malnutrition” that leads to stunting
and wasting, a hidden hunger or deficiencies in micronutrients and obesity.

It said
stunting could compromise children for life. Once they reach two years old and
they have not received ample nutrition, the impact will be irreversible. This
means their brain development has not been maximized and this will prevent them
from succeeding in school and becoming truly productive workers in the future.

Demographic time bomb

Earlier, economists like former
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Cielito Habito warned that instead of reaping
the demographic dividend, the country may have to deal with a “demographic time
bomb.”

This, Habito said, will be due to the
disadvantaged youth of today who may become incapable of becoming productive
workers in the future.

The OIC division chief of the Department of
Health (DOH) Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, Anthony P. Calibo, said the
government is closely monitoring the nutrition status of Filipino children.

Calibo said the government monitors this through the Department of
Education, particularly completion rates and achievement tests. The Department
of Labor and Employment can also help through its annual data on human
productivity.

“It’s difficult to generalize that the human
productivity of the Philippines is actually compromised. [But] if this trend
will not be reversed, maybe the next 20 years of adult workers would be the
not-so-productive adult workers in the future,” he said.

Earlier, World Bank Program Leader for Human
Development Gabriel Demombynes said the Philippines’s investment in human
capital has been “historically low” and this has prevented the country from
addressing problems, such as stunting.

Demombynes said 1 in 3 Filipino children below
five years old are stunted, a ratio that has been unchanged in 10 years. He
said the ratio remained at 1 in 3 children in 2015.

Due to this, the Philippines only ranked 84
out of 157 countries in the World Bank’s Human Capital Index (HCI) released
last year. The country’s index score was only 0.55, below the average score of
0.61 in the East Asia and the Pacific, and significantly lower than the 0.74
score of high-income countries.

However, Demombynes said if the country meets
its human capital targets, as stated in the Philippine Development Plan (PDP),
the country’s HCI score could increase to 0.75 by 2022. This translates to a
36-percent growth in future income and the country’s future GDP.

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