Looks can be deceiving--which is why you cannot judge if children are well-fed simply by the way they look, a senior emergency responder said.
"Kahit sabihin mo na [malaki iyong tiyan niya], puwedeng malnutrisyon pa rin iyan, eh. Malnourished--kulang talaga sila sa nutrients na natatanggap," said John Christian Reyes, 25, a senior member of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) emergency response unit.
(Even if you say that a child has a big tummy, they can still be malnourished and lack proper nutrition.)
Some children who are malnourished also have large stomachs, a trait usually associated with overfeeding, but is actually a sign of nutrient deficiency.
"Ang payat-payat mo, pero ang laki-laki ng tiyan mo. Iyon, [makikita mong] may mali sa natatanggap na nutrients. Sila din iyong mahina ang immune system. [Kapag] sinisipon, halos hindi mawala iyong sipon," he said.
(Thin, but with a large stomach. You can see that they are not receiving proper nutrition. They have weak immune systems. When they get a cold, it does not go away.)
While there have been numerous feeding programs initiated by government and private organizations around the country, there needs to be an effort to educate parents and communities how to properly care for children, he added.
This is because in some instances, parents are uncooperative or inconsistent in their support--often due to poverty.
"Usually sa Manila, [at sa] Quezon City areas…Marami na kaming respondeng ganun. Iyong mga bata malnourished, sa dami ng anak nila...[usually] mga informal settlers," Reyes said of responding to medical emergencies in the slums.
(Usually in Manila and Quezon City, we respond to a lot of situations like that. A lot of malnourished children are usually of informal settlers.)
Once, he and his team found malnourished children who had been sick for days.
"Iyong mga sobrang payat, kapag nilagnat iyan, nagkukumbulsyon agad…kasi wala nang fats or muscle, hindi na nakakapag-generate ng heat [yung katawan]," Reyes explained.
(When extremely thin children get a fever, they go into convulsions because their bodies are unable to generate heat due to a lack of muscle or fat.)
Many children who lack proper nutrition are also prone to illness, and can get frequently get sick.
"Normally, [pag nanghihingi yung magulang ng tulong], sasabihin ilang days nang may lagnat [yung anak]. So makikita mo yung mga bata, madilaw na, maputla, ang payat-payat na. Dehydrated na [rin] kasi, nagsusuka daw, ilang days na."
(When parents ask for help, they say that their children have been sick for days. You see them with pale, yellow skin, and they are very thin. They are also dehydrated, and vomiting, because they have been sick for days.)
"[Tatanungin namin,] bakit hindi nyo dinala sa ospital? [Sasabihin nila,] wala po kaming pera pampa-ospital. Ganun lagi ang sagot nila."
(When we ask why they did not bring the children to the hospital, they always say they have no money for that.)
Many malnourished children in poor communities also become that way due to a lack of proper care. Some parents are unable to properly care for their children due to harsh conditions, and some kids are left alone to fend for themselves.
However, during his six years of rescuing people around Metro Manila, and responding to emergencies, Reyes said that sadly, there remains a misconception about malnutrition--it is viewed as "normal" and not much of a concern in poor communities, and only thin children are thought to be malnourished.
Despite this, Reyes remains optimistic that malnutrition can be addressed, especially if more volunteers and concerned parties help spread awareness about the condition, which remains a serious problem in the country.
According to the National Nutrition Council (NNC) earlier this year, more than 3.8 million children in the Philippines are stunted or short for their age, while about 807,057 are wasted or underweight.
This is equivalent to about 33.4 percent and 7.1 percent of children in the country.
One effort that aims to address this, of which the PRC is also part, is United For Healthier Kids (U4HK), a pioneering and comprehensive program initiated by Nestlé.
The United For Healthier Kids (U4HK) project, which has partnered with non-profit organizations and the government, aims to establish healthier eating, drinking, and lifestyle habits for Filipino children.
Since it was launched in 2014, U4HK was able to develop a platform and form a coalition with various partners to create public awareness on the extent of malnutrition, areas for collaboration, and opportunities for action, like volunteering, donating, or sharing the project through social media.
Focused on driving action towards a long-term solution against hunger and malnutrition among Filipino kids, the program highlights the urgent need for these children to gain access to balanced meals, nutritious food, safe drinking water, and proper hygiene.
Those who deem it is time to be #HangryaboutHunger can volunteer, donate, or share the advocacy on their social media accounts.
To learn more about U4HK, its partners, and how to contribute, those interested can visit the Hangry About Hunger website.
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