Protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) and micronutrient deficiencies remain the leading nutritional problems in the Philippines. The general declining trend in the prevalence of underweight, wasting and stunting among Filipino children noted in the past 10 years was countered by the increase in the prevalence rate in 1998. About 4 million (31.8%) of the preschool population were found to be underweight-for-age, 3 million (19.8%) adolescents and 5 million (13.2%) adults, including older persons were found to be underweight and chronically energy deficient, respectively.
The status of micronutrient malnutrition is likewise an important concern in the country. The vitamin A status of the country is considered severe subclinical deficiency affecting children 6 months – 5 years (8.2%) and pregnant women (7.1%). Iron deficiency anemia is the most alarming of the micronutrient deficiencies affecting a considerable proportion of infants (56.6%), pregnant women (50.7%), lactating women (45.7%) and male older persons (49.1%). Prevalence of IDD was mild (71mg/L). However, 35.8% children 6 – 12 years old still suffer from moderate and severe IDD.
Overweight and obesity are also prevalent in the country affecting a significant proportion of children, adolescents, and adults, which predispose them to certain nutrition and health risks. This is evident in the rising trend in the prevalence of diseases of the heart and the vascular system.
Malnutrition in the Philippines is caused by a host of interrelated factors – health, physical, social, economic and others. Food supply and how it is distributed and consumed by the populace have the consequent impact on nutritional status. While reports indicate that there is enough food to feed the country, many Filipinos continue to go hungry and become malnourished due to inadequate intake of food and nutrients. In fact, except for protein, the typical Filipino diet was found to be grossly inadequate for energy and other nutrients. To compensate for the inadequate energy intake, the body utilizes protein as the energy source. Thus, the continuing PEM problem in the country.
The present economic situation of the country further aggravates the malnutrition problem with about 28 million Filipinos unable to buy food to meet their nutritional requirements and other basic needs. While it was reported that the health status of Filipinos improved regarding the decrease in the mortality rates of mothers and infants, the rising incidence of infectious diseases such as diarrhea and respiratory diseases contributed to the poor nutritional status of many Filipinos. The effect of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, as well as the El Niño phenomenon, was also manifested in the increase in the prevalence of malnutrition in the national nutrition survey of 1998.