Child Hunger and Malnutrition in the Philippines
The evidence of malnutrition today is not only found at our street-corners, but is also found in front of our screens.
When we talk about poverty in the Philippines, it always connects to hunger and malnutrition. We always picture malnourished children belonging to poor families or tribes with very poor living conditions. However, hunger and malnutrition is also manifested in normal-looking bodies of children who continue to feed themselves with low-quality, unhealthy foods.
Who then experiences malnutrition today? The stereotypical answer falls only on thin and frail-bodied children, but obese and normal-built children complete the classifications.
How do we really detect malnutrition? Studies have shown that children and youth malnutrition is caused by eating the wrong kinds of food in the wrong way and at the wrong time.
Wars, calamities, pandemics, and bad economy would immediately affect food supply and people. Children are often hit the hardest. The worldwide concern on hunger has created movements to address this issue and usually end up raising funds through concerts, shows, or media blitz. Immediate feeding programs are only temporary solutions because the bigger and real issue is malnutrition. Even if hungry people are fed during those moments, the lasting and long-term effect is more important. It boils down to eating the right kinds of food properly.
Let’s look into our local situation, as the Philippines is not exempted from this concern. At the onset of globalization, time has become too flexible. There is no such thing anymore as the 8-to-5 working hours, or the 16-hour waking time, because our sleeping habits do not depend on the ideal 8-hour requirement. With so much to do, so much to watch, and so many places to go, we have so little time to sleep. With so little time to sleep, our bodies give way to adapt and survive by craving for more, more, and more food.
Today, the Filipino children and youth become the most affected groups because they do not know how to practice the right eating habits. As a result of late-night sleeping and oversleeping, they need to rush and keep up with the day, skip breakfast, and eat brunch outside their homes. To save money and satisfy their tummies, most of them eat fast food with 2 to 3 cups of rice and a small amount of flavorful viands. The satisfaction is expressed in popular Filipino lines, such as “Mura na, nakakabusog pa” (inexpensive, yet satisfying) or “Sulit” (amount compensates the price). However, this practice is not good if it becomes an everyday habit.
Yummy but Junk
Aside from bad eating habits, most children and youth prefer eating C-foods or junk foods over eating complete meals. These are chips, candies, chocolates, cookies, crackers, cakes, and any food with small nutritional value.
Bad eating habits, combined with low-quality food, lead to another problem called binge-eating. This takes place when children and youth skip meals and eat a lot of the appealing C-foods instead. They choose sugary and salty snacks as the cheaper alternatives to satisfy their hunger. Mura na, masarap pa (both cheap and delicious). When their bodies do not receive the right amounts of nutrients and minerals, the cells in the body systems begin to starve and weaken.
Modern Cause of Malnutrition
The root of these behaviors in children and youth is not mainly the lack of financial capacity to provide high-quality food, but originates from their own preferences and decisions. Why do most children and youth today choose to eat low-quality foods and eat in a wrong manner?
Social media and technology play a major role in influencing preferences.
- Social media has created the “like culture” or the “like generation”. Almost everyone in the Internet or information highway has adapted this enticing culture because it is for everyone and people get the chance to be important to everyone. Links and connections have made the world one big food-liking neighborhood.
- Almost everyone has access to social media sites. Enterprising businesses seize the opportunity to promote their start-up food businesses and make the consumers crave for something they never tasted. Social media sites and technology play a big role in giving a solution to the FOMO problem (fear of missing out) by convincing the children and youth, as well as the parents, to try out the food from these new establishments. However, even if most of the food choices are high in calories and fat, they know that the children and youth are vulnerable when they lose self-control. Eventually, the youngsters will give in to their cravings.
- The presence of social media and technology consumes the time of most people, especially the children and youth. They are too engrossed in using social media applications and gaming sites, until they become unaware of time that already passed. Too much exposure to gadget screens also causes sleeping problems, as the blue-light keeps the mind wide awake, especially at night. The domino effect creates disrupted sleeping patterns and eating habits.
- When people abuse the use of social media applications or binge-watch movies or shows overnight, they tend to munch on something because they feel bored. The best food partner while enjoying these shows are junk foods.
- Social media sites expose the children and youth to different kinds of TV personalities and famous people. More often, these popular people started a trend of having good body shapes, which creates a longing among the younger generation to be like them. Most children and youth want to imitate their favorite personalities by becoming thin and “sexy”. As a result, they starve themselves and eventually acquire different eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa.
- Social media sites and technology currently promote getting fit by going to the gym, but most people, especially the youth, abuse the benefit of this practice. They use the gym as an excuse for binge-eating and devouring anything they want because they will “burn them soon”. However, it is not guaranteed that the unhealthy input will be flushed out and burned easily by the body.
On a personal note, I have gone through all of these struggles. My parents chose to follow a healthy lifestyle while I was still young. I remember being given the choice to eat what is served on the table (mostly vegetables, fish, or lean meat) or get hungry if I refused. Eating healthy meals was not my first choice, but I did not have a choice at all. However, I only learned HOW to eat right and live right after graduating from college. I learned to love eating nutritious foods in the right portions and exercising for the right reasons.
Beating hunger and malnutrition needs a lifestyle change. For most people, they say that spending for healthier choices is more expensive, but my mother believes that she can stretch our budget to give us the healthiest options. While those who live at the poverty line have little or no choice to eat healthily, those with the means tend to choose unhealthy foods because of the bombardment of social media sites and technology that “sweeter and tastier is better”.
As mature individuals, it is our responsibility to be mindful of our actions. Kung ang kabataan ang pag-asa ng bayan, dapat natin silang turuan kung paano alagaan at pahalagahan ang kalusugan ng mga sarili nilang katawan (If the children and youth are the hope of our country, we are responsible to teach them how to take care of their bodies and value themselves). Sadly, we neglect our responsibilities to teach them how to make the right choices.
Hunger and malnutrition is uncovering the tip of the iceberg. As we feed their minds with the wrong information, we also feed their bodies with the wrong food choices. The bodies of the children and youth hunger for the right food. Their minds starve for the right knowledge. Their souls desire for the right love, attention, and beliefs to hold on to.
The Good Book is the best cook book which says, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).” Feed the children what they need.