The food environment in the Philippines is failing children and driving the high prevalence of overweight and obesity, says UNICEF in a report released on March 8.
The publication, “Children’s lived experience of the food environment,” reveals the realities of children’s lives and how systems affect what they eat.
The study found that children and young people in the Philippines are influenced by similar environmental factors that impact their food choices and eating habits.
By examining the children’s lived experiences, UNICEF was able to pinpoint the policies that the Philippine government and other stakeholders need to strengthen to provide children with better access to healthier diets and living conditions.
These improvements are crucial in supporting the growth and development of children in the country, says the report.
The diets of children in the Philippines are changing, it says, adding that children are eating fewer fruits and vegetables, and more sugar, salty and fatty products.
Three quarters (74%) of children aged 13–15 eat less than three portions of vegetables per day, while more than one third (38%) drink at least one soft drink per day.
Among children aged 5 to 10, overweight rates increased significantly from 10.4% in 2019 to 14% in 2022, and among adolescents aged 10 to 19, it increased from 10.7% in 2019 to 13% in 2022.
“Malnutrition is a serious violation of a child’s right to adequate nutrition and can have serious long-term consequences for a child’s health, development, and well-being,” said UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov.
“Children need a varied and nutritious diet for their growth and development, and caregivers need support to provide their children with a healthy diet,” added Dendevnorov.
Supported by the Center for Food Policy at City University of London, the study aimed to understand children’s lived experiences of the food environment, and to provide qualitative evidence for policy options to prevent overweight and obesity among children.
It complements a comprehensive landscape analysis that reviewed the extent and risk factors for overweight and obesity in children, identified the gaps in governance, policies and programmes, and recommended actions for policymakers.
Evidence from the landscape analysis, a related marketing study, and this study provide a robust rationale for strengthening policies and legislation.
The study details recommendations on food, social protection, built infrastructure, education, and communication systems, such as: introducing mandatory legislation to restrict the marketing of unhealthy food to children; promoting availability of locally produced food at affordable prices; developing safe areas where children can play and engage in sports activities; and enforcing policies and standards to promote healthy school food environments, among others.
The climate crisis, economic shocks and rising prices are hitting vulnerable families particularly hard, the report says.
Poor diets are also contributing to a triple burden of malnutrition with undernutrition, in the form of poor growth and micronutrient deficiencies, co-existing with increasing rates of overweight, it adds.