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Affordable healthy diet for all - NNC

“What should I feed my family today?”

This is the question that Evangeline Bolante, 40, of Paknaan, Mandaue City, Cebu answers every day as she wakes up in the morning. A mother of three children aged 10, 8, and 3, she does not really worry much on the kind of food her family eats for the day.  

Evangeline says she does not have much of a choice. For a family of five on a meager budget, serving nutritious food for her children is the least of her concerns. Her family’s budget - which ranges between P350 to P500, depending on how much her husband, a construction worker, brings home that day - dictates the food for the day. With this meager budget, Evangeline would often opt to buy buwad (dried fish), which is more affordable than vegetables and meat. 

Evangeline’s situation is one that is shared by the majority of the families in Central Visayas who struggle with providing nutritious food to their children. Based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, Central Visayas has a high poverty incidence rate at 22.1% in 2021. This means that one in every five families in the region earns less than what is required to meet their basic needs for food and non-food items. 

According to the National Nutrition Council (NNC-7), the poverty incidence in the region is a threat to the improving nutritional status in the region after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A participant of the National Nutrition Council (NNC) Region 7’s“Nutri RAeCipE” cooking contest explains her healthy and affordable dish during the kick-off of the Nutrition Month in Central Visayas on July 4, 2023 in Cebu City. The contest is in line with the efforts of the regional council to educate the public on how to prepare healthy meals on a budget. (Photo from NNC-7 Facebook page)
Improved nutrition 

NNC-7 noted that the region’s nutrition statistics, in general, has slightly improved in 2022 compared to 2021.

The frequency of underweight people reduced by 3.6% in 2022, compared to 3.97% in 2019 and 4.9% in 2021.  On the other hand, the prevalence of overweight and obesity dropped from 3.1% in 2021 to 2.78% in 2022. 

“As the COVID-19 situation in the country stabilizes, so does the nutrition situation in Central Visayas as the health and nutrition systems gain a foothold back into the regular nutrition services,” NNC-7 said. 

OPT Results 

Based on the 2022 Operation Timbang Plus (OPT)  results, among the types of malnutrition, stunting or chronic malnutrition continues to decrease in both prevalence (from 9.7% in 2021 to 8.5% in 2022) and magnitude from 72,179 children to 55,741 children in the same years.

If not abated, stunting has a significant impact especially on the cognitive development of children and economic development of the community.

Wasting or acute malnutrition has increased in magnitude from 14,382 children to 17,884 children between 2020 to 2021. This has returned to 14,503 children in 2022.

The increase in prevalence of underweight (light for age) and overweight and obesity (weight compared to height/length) which had shown a spike in 2021 had returned to a stable pre-pandemic.

Underweight prevalence, which had increased from 3.97% in 2019 to 4.9% in 2021, has returned to 3.6% in 2022.

On the other hand, overweight and obesity - which had a prevalence rate of 2.78% pre-pandemic in 2019 and peaked at 3.1% in 2021 - has decreased to 2.8% in 2022.

Volunteer health workers in Central Visayas weighing and measuring the height of children during the Operation Timbang (OPT) Plus, which is done annually to measure the weight and height of all 0-59 months old children. (Image from National Nutrition Council-7 Facebook page)
Food insecurity

The improving nutritional status, however, is at risk in view of the food insecurity in the region. According to the 2022 World Health Organization (WHO) Food Security Monitoring Report, Central Visayas is the 4th food insecure region in the country with a food insecurity prevalence of 17.2%.

WHO defines food insecurity as a household's inability to consistently obtain enough food for each member to have an active, healthy life.

Food insecurity has affected the quality of food consumption in the region as NNC-7 observed that there is a high consumption of sugars and oils over fruits and meat. This observation was supported by the Department of Agriculture (DA) during a press conference held June 23, 2023 where DA-7 Regional Information Officer Cheryl dela Victoria said that vegetable consumption among the residents remains a challenge.

She said that in 2022, vegetable production in lowland areas in the region producing squash, eggplant, ampalaya, etc. is at 122,000 metric tons while the demand is at 99,000 metric tons. However, consumption is still below 12.4% of the total demand.

Dela Victoria said that vegetable supply in the region is high but its consumption is low, resulting in a high wastage of vegetables which are highly perishable.

Practical and healthy food 

To address the challenge faced by families here when it comes to budgeting for healthy food, NNC-7 together with the Cebu City government held a series of activities dubbed as “aFOODable Fair” to kick off  the celebration of Nutrition Month on July 4, 2023. One of the highlights of the activity was the “Nutri RAeCipE” cooking contest. NNC-7 staged the cook-off in a bid to educate the public on how to come up with healthy meals on a budget. 

Participants showcased their abilities to cook a healthy dish using ingredients that families here can buy easily. This is also a way to support local farmers' products while educating and motivating people to switch to a healthy, sustainable diet.

Aside from the cooking competition, staff from the Cebu City Agriculture Office shared tips on food security in the household and Basic Urban Gardening, such as how to set up hydroponics in their homes. With the help of the Department of Agriculture (DA), farmers from Cebu City's mountain barangays, Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Organization members, Sustainable Livelihood Program participants, and Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Business Network members also displayed and sold their goods during the food fair.

Clinical dieticians were also present and offered nutrition advice while blood sugar and cholesterol tests were being done by the Department of Health (DOH).

NNC-7 also continues to raise awareness on how parents can introduce fruits and vegetables to their kids instead of processed meats. The regional council regularly posts cooking videos on their official Facebook page featuring budget-friendly yet healthy dishes such as String Beans Patties and Banana Heart Bola-Bola that cost less than P300. 

The agency also called on policymakers to reduce the availability of processed foods, help the food producing sectors of the country, and provide subsidies to income-challenged families. (MYP/PIA7 Cebu) 

About the Author

Myrtle Pasigan

Information Officer

Region 7

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