MANILA: Around a third of school children in the Philippines are undernourished, according to the country’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute.
And in a country where one in 10 Filipino families lives in extreme poverty, these findings come as no surprise. A recent survey conducted by the charity Save the Children found that one in four Filipino children sometimes skip meals and as many as 1.5 million children often go a whole day without a single meal.
The Philippines Department of Education warns that as many as 1.8 million Filipino children suffer from "severe malnourishment".
Undernutrition is also a problem exacerbated by mothers who give birth when they are too young. "If teenagers get pregnant at a young age and are malnourished they most likely will produce children that are also malnourished,” said Lilibeth Dasco, Senior Science Research, Food and Nutrition Research Institute.
According to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, children from the ages of 0-10 years old are the most at risk. This has potentially devastating short and long-term effects like stunting.
According to a recent Save the Children report, widespread malnutrition has led to stunted growth among people - and one in three children under the age of five suffers from this condition.
"Undernutrition is behind the high dropout rates in elementary and high schools," said Jun Arajo, Health and Nutrition Center, Department of Education. “If the trend continues in the coming years, then it will have a great impact on employment rates in the country and the economy will suffer."
Those suffering from undernourishment will also be more prone to illnesses, reducing their ability to work. And for those in the lower income bracket, that means a further reduction in their livelihood. In response, the government launched a feeding programme to address the problem of under nutrition among public school students.
FEEDING PROGRAMME SHOWS RESULTS
At a school in Pateros, a poor neighbourhood in Manila, 344 children are fed one nutritious meal a day. This is a programme run by the Department of Education, and it aims to try and reduce malnutrition which is particularly prominent among the younger children.
Fely Naramos is a grade 5 teacher at the school. She said malnutrition used to be a big problem as children would come in exhausted, barely able to concentrate, often fainting during classes.
But when they introduced their feeding programme 10 years ago, there were dramatic improvements. "It’s made a great difference because they can follow their lessons,” she said. “And mostly they are happy because their stomach is full.”
Naramos said around 30 students used to drop out of school a year before the feeding programme. That number has now dropped drastically to just five and grades are also steadily on the rise.
But while feeding programmes like this give younger children a fighting chance, it is the wider problem of poverty that needs to be addressed for more long-lasting change.