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EDCOM2 to work closely with DSWD to address malnutrition and stunting of children


The Second Congressional Committee on Education (EDCOM 2) today met with Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Rex Gatchalian to discuss government efforts aimed at combating malnutrition and stunting among children. 

Joined by PIDS President Dr. Aniceto Orbeta, Senior Research Fellow Dr Valerie Gilbert Ulep and nutrition expert Dr Maria Asuncion Silvestre, EDCOM 2 and DSWD discussed issues and challenges concerning implementation of feeding programs and other government interventions to address malnutrition, and how these translate to improved nutrition of children especially those under five years of age. 

“We face glaring problems in education as reflected in our Year One report, and yet, we are underinvested in the most important years. We want to explore how DSWD and EDCOM 2 can work together and streamline our efforts to improve early childhood care and development which is fundamental in any effort to combat learning poverty in our country”,  says EDCOM 2 Executive Director Karol Mark Yee. 

Inextricable link of malnutrition and education

“Several studies already showed that the failure to provide adequate nutrition during the early stages of life would impact a child’s learning and earning capacity in adulthood. We must introduce nutrition interventions at the earliest possible opportunity to build a child’s strong foundation, and we should be able to do this with support from our local government units,” said Senator Win Gatchalian, EDCOM 2 Co-Chairperson and author of the Basic Education and Early Childhood Education Alignment Act (Senate Bill No. 2575).

In its Year One Report, EDCOM 2 noted that the Philippines has one of the highest prevalence of stunting under-five in the world at 26.7%, greater than the global average of 22.3%. Current prevalence rates for under-five wasting and underweight is at 16.8% and 5.5% respectively, and 1 in 5 children are born with low birth weight. 

Studies show that malnutrition can hinder the complete physical and development potential of children. Its  effect on academic performance has long been established, and may also have lasting effects on cognitive development of learners. 

Evidently, the 2022 Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) results indicate that learners in the Philippines are five to six years behind the average learners, ranking among the lowest in reading, mathematics, and science across 81 countries. 

Early childhood care and development in the Philippines

Among the efforts of the Commission to pursue its mandate to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the Philippine education sector, EDCOM 2 has partnered with various national and international organizations, local civil organizations, universities, and research centers to undertake data-driven research studies.

The law further designates the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) as the research arm of the Commission, tasked to produce data-based research and analysis for policy recommendations. 

In a PIDS study commissioned by EDCOM 2 that analyzed the health, nutrition, and early education outcomes of Filipino children and examined their access to essential health, nutrition, and early education services, results showed that there is a slow decline of stunting rates in the country in the last 30 years. The Philippines also has one of the highest rates of learning poverty in the region. 

The study also looked at the recommended energy intake (REI) of Filipino children. “Many children are stunted because they are not meeting the recommended energy intake. In our analysis, only a quarter of Filipino children meet the REI. There is also variation in the quality of food that they are taking”, says PIDS Senior Research Fellow Val Ulep. 

Preliminary analysis using REI also shows no difference in terms of meeting total energy and protein intake between children who received supplementary feeding programs compared to those who did not. This suggests further investigation and potential adjustments to the program to ensure effectiveness in addressing nutritional needs. 

 “Despite government efforts such as school-based feeding programs, only 23% of the children have benefited. This low percentage is also reflected in the DSWD administrative data, which is lower than  estimates from national surveys”, says Ulep. A higher percentage of children aged four years old receiving government feeding programs is also observed in the study, which reflects the implementation of school feeding initiatives in daycare centers and kindergarten schools.

Maximize low hanging fruits, heighten call for more targeted programs

Despite the interventions in place to address malnutrition, implementation remains siloed and fragmented, program coverage remains low, and targeting of interventions to maximize outcomes has been weak. 

“We are very far from where we need to be. We need to maximize low hanging fruits and implement strategic interventions to get us a bit better from where we are, especially for the first 0-4 years”, says Yee as EDCOM 2, DSWD, and experts discuss ongoing efforts that can be maximized and strengthened to address malnutrition problem. 

Among the nationwide efforts of the national government to address malnutrition is  the Philippine Multisectoral Nutrition Project (PMNP) supported by the World Bank, which seeks to increase the utilization of a package of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions and improve key behaviors and practices known to reduce stunting in targeted local government units. Among the components of the project also include strengthening systems and processes, and capacitating local government units to improve their capacities to understand the stunting problem in communities. 

“We want to empower families to be able to decide on their own, by guiding them towards behavior change on what is nutritious, delicious, and affordable,” says DSWD Secretary Rex Gatchalian, as he expressed the potential of the PMNP and the need to strengthen its implementation.  

The Food Stamp Program, DSWD’s flagship program, is also seen as an opportunity to advance nutrition outcomes and address nutrition needs of children 0-2 years of age. This program prioritizes pregnant and lactating women in low income families. 

Sec. Gatchalian also shared some of DSWD’s proposed amendments to the 4Ps law, which include introducing incentives for pregnant and lactating women to encourage them to avail health services and improve their health seeking habits. 

“Fighting stunting is a community endeavor. The PMNP tries to understand what the community lacks and what the community needs,” adds Sec Gatchalian. The PMNP, alongside other interventions to address the multifaceted nature of malnutrition, calls for a strengthened multisecoral approach. 

The PIDS study on nutrition, “Behind the Slow Start: An Assessment of Early Childhood Care and Development in the Philippines”, may be downloaded in full at https://edcom2.gov.ph/publications/

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