Who is on top of PH nutrition?

MANILA, Philippines – What you eat versus what your body requires to function well determines the quality of your life.

This is a basic lesson in nutrition and it affects the longevity and quality of human life, and ultimately, a country’s development.

Maria Lourdes Vega, Chief of the Nutrition Policy and Planning Division of the National Nutrition Council (NNC). Photo by Christelle Delvo/Rappler.com

Maria Lourdes Vega, Chief of the Nutrition Policy and Planning Division of the National Nutrition Council (NNC). Photo by Christelle Delvo/Rappler.

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The hollow circle you’d make with one hand, she said, is the arm width of a malnourished child.

Malnutrition is just one manifestation of the country’s overall hunger crisis, which the NNC is mandated to address.

Acknowledgment of nutrition’s place in the national agenda dates back to 1947, with the creation of the Philippine Institute of Nutrition.

But it wasn’t until 1974, upon an issuance of then president Ferdinand Marcos, that the NNC was established through Presidential Decree No. 491 or the Nutrition Act of the Philippines.

The council’s basic mandate is to formulate an integrated national program on nutrition through enactment of policies and programs.

For example, the council issued a resolution implementing a National Salt Iodization Program in 2012 to address iodine deficiency problems prevalent among Filipinos based on findings of the 2008 national nutrition survey (NNS).

The NNC’s anti-hunger initiative is in line with the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN), a 6-year plan anchored on the Philippine Development Plan.

The PPAN operates on the premise that the nutritional status of Filipinos plays a part in every other national agenda, whether from peace and security to macroeconomic policy, industrialization to environment care.

The PPAN also aligns itself with the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which aspire to alleviate hunger by 2015.

Hunger

HUNGER. How does the Philippines address its hunger problem? Photo by Fritzie Rodriguez/Rappler.com

HUNGER. How does the Philippines address its hunger problem? Photo by Fritzie Rodriguez/Rappler.

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The NNC’s measure of the country’s hunger crisis takes a look at how full or empty children’s stomachs are. (READ: PH vs Hunger)

This translates to several programs directed at women and children.

The National Nutrition Act itself declares the importance of targeting infants and young children, pregnant women and nursing mothers because they are most vulnerable to malnutrition. (READ: Makati Human Milk Bank)

To address this vulnerability, the NNC takes the basic step of promoting the importance of breastfeeding, especially in the first 6 months of  an infant's life by securing the firm implementation of the Milk Code. (READ: Role of dads in breastfeeding)

Furthering the cause, the council trains health workers to become effective councilors aiding breastfeeding mothers, and facilitates mother-to-mother peer counseling. (READ: Fabella Hospital Milk Bank)

Breastfeeding mothers may either experience depression in the course of caring for their children or may be misinformed about the process of breastfeeding itself. These concerns tend to affect how they fulfill their children’s needs.

Making this information known will enlighten the public about misconceptions about the human body. (READ: Social media vs Hunger)

For example, the common belief that Filipino children are short is largely unfounded. (INFOGRAPHIC: What is stunting?)

According to Vega, “Studies show all children regardless of race will grow in the same way, provided you give them the optimum food and care in the first two years of life." (WATCH: Peter Pan and malnutrition)

Another of NNC's programs is “Operation Timbang Plus,” which keeps count of children who are stunted, wasted, and generally underweight as markers of a local community’s hunger situation. (READ: Hunger 101)

It is a nationwide initiative facilitated by the NNC’s local government unit (LGU) counterparts to establish data per municipality and barangay that may help in policy-making. (READ: Malnutrition and bad governance)

Inter-agency

The NNC is characterized by its multi-sectoral composition, highlighting an inter-agency approach to hunger.

The policy-making body itself or the governing board is composed of the secretaries or directors-general of 10 government agencies and 3 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). 

Extending outside government realm, the NNC coordinates with the Philippine Coalition of Advocates for Nutrition Security (PhilCan), a coalition of NGOs that develop programs for an improved nutrition situation, especially for marginalized populations. 

‘Dirty work’

“The most we give to the public is really nutrition information,” Vega said.

Information dissemination entails making sure the public understands their bodily needs for food rich in nutrients and where to go if these needs are unmet.

The NNC secretariat also makes sure that government agencies make informed decisions on policy-making by commissioning research studies, data-gathering in various communities, drafting policy adaptations, among others.

This is what Vega refers to as “dirty work” in nutrition because it does on-the-ground work, that may often go unnoticed.

Making good out of loose ends

That most of us may only be learning about the NNC now can be read as the council's failure to make its presence felt.

According to Vega, they've withdrawn from the use of billboards and posters for their information campaigns because they achieved little recall in the past.

There is definitely a lot more to work on. A country’s hunger problems are like holes in one’s shirt, according to Vega. To overlook any loose thread may easily worsen the dynamic of the whole.

She said the NNC continues to find ways of getting its hands dirty with new ways of reaching out to people, even if it means working under our noses. (WATCH: Sports vs Hunger)

July is Nutrition Month, a reminder that all heads should make a conscious effort to make nutrition a part of every decision made.

While the NNC stands by its mandate, long-term progress in the anti-hunger agenda should mean we understand the need for proper nutrition enough to make a choice for ourselves. – Rappler.com

Send your stories and ideas to move.ph@rappler.com. Report what your LGU is doing, recommend NGOs, and suggest ways on how we can help fight hunger. Be part of the solution, be part of the #HungerProject.

Christelle Delvo is a journalism student in the University of the Philippines-Diliman and the president of the UP Journalism Club. She is a Rappler intern.