Child nutrition in the Philippines has steadily improved over the last decade, according to the Department of Health, but the number of underweight children five years and below remains prevalent at about 20%. Moreover, United Nations Children’s Fund data shows that under-nutrition affects more than four million Filipino children, resulting in physical and mental ability challenges. Local government units, NGOs, and private institutions have recognized these challenges and mobilized to combat chronic hunger and malnutrition in the hope of building a brighter future for the country’s young.
An effort that works closely with local stakeholders is the Knorr Lutong Nanay Nutrition Program, which has in turn supported communities and schools where Unilever operates in. In General Trias, Cavite, the program initiated community-based and school-based feeding programs covering five barangays and three public elementary schools, benefiting a total of 191 schoolchildren. Aside from the significant improvement on the children’s health, the program has inspired collaboration in the community to ensure that every child is given the chance to be part of the program.
The program is premised on the belief that the discussion on accessibility of healthy food options and nutrition education should transcend the household. When children start going to school, they are exposed to a multitude of influences that could help shape eating habits. Knorr Lutong Nanay, a school-based feeding program, believes that instilling healthy eating habits and providing nutritious meals while children are in school are equally crucial in creating a generation of healthy young Filipinos.
While the community-based feeding program includes children below three years old, nutrition at the critical development stage of school children ages six years old and above are ensured by the school-based feeding program.
Instilling the habit of eating healthy
“Nutrition programs require 100% involvement and participation from parents to make it successful,” said Precy Escalante, Regional Head Nutritionist of the Department of Social Welfare and Development-Region IV-A. “We want the children to be able to form nutritious eating habits, regardless of nutritional status.”
Javalara Elementary School is one of the schools participating in the current run of Knorr Lutong Nanay in General Trias, supported by Department of Education, DSWD, and Kabisig ng Kalahi Inc, a non-profit organization that has been a long-term partner of Unilever in its feeding programs.
Demetrio Recto Jr., Principal of Javalara Elementary School explained, “When we started gathering the nutritional status of the children in our school, there was a 30% decline of malnourished children in Javalera. The weight of a third of the school children improved, but the other participants can still catch up.”
This has inspired Recto to go beyond the school feeding sessions to further improve the nutritional status of Javalera’s school-age population. He started involving parents through regular parenting summits and encouraged them to adopt in their homes the same eating habits that the children learned in school.
It has taken a lot of resources and effort, but Recto is dedicated to make it happen for his school. He is convinced that improvement in nutrition has helped his students immensely. “There has been a steady increase in the performance of the children physically and academically. They are more focused, since now they don’t need to worry about what they will eat when it is readily available in school,” he said.
Elevating nutrition education starting with schools
Regular feeding is not the end goal for the Knorr Lutong Nanay Nutrition Program in General Trias. With the help of the program, Recto knew that understanding nutrition and food sources can lead to a deeper appreciation of what they do in Javalera Elementary School.
The Knorr Lutong Nanay Nutrition Program is jointly implemented with the Gulayan sa Paaralan Project, where the school plants indigenous and weather-resistant crops like sitaw, bataw, patani, and other vegetables mentioned in the folk song “Bahay Kubo.” The vegetables are then included in the meals served in the school’s feeding program. Planting the crops from the song helps the children recall and appreciate the objectives of their gardening activities better.
Recto explained, “At Javalera, we teach children about nutritious food, and we grow them in what we call ‘crop museum’ where we house the seedlings. Our objective is to sustain the supply of food in the school and to stretch our food budget. Our hope is to carry the program beyond the classrooms and bring it to homes and communities.”
To recognize the valuable contributions and support provided by their partners to these initiatives, DWSD Calabarzon recently honored Unilever Philippines with the Pagkilala sa Natatanging Kontribusyon sa Bayan or PaNata Award.
“This recognition is for those who provided the heart, compassion, and hands necessary to improve the lives of our beneficiaries,” shared DWSD Region IV-A Director Leticia Diokno. “We honor and thank our distinguished partners who aided in implementing the projects and programs of DSWD.”
Unilever Philippines Vice President for Sustainable Business & Communications Ed Sunico said, “Health and nutrition have always been deeply embedded in our business. The Knorr Lutong Nanay Nutrition Program is one of our ways of giving back to the community and with the help of DSWD, we have significantly furthered our advocacy.”
Widening the impact of the Knorr Lutong Nanay Nutrition Program
From all the support that the city of General Trias gets from different sectors, the path to success is clearly defined.
General Trias Mayor Antonio Ferrer beamed, “As the father of General Trias City, it is my ambition to see our children grow up healthy. The issue of malnutrition is still evident in our city. We are grateful for the help of Unilever, that aside from providing jobs in our city, they also help us address this issue. They are not simply feeding our children, they also equip us with the right information and training to be able to sustain these efforts at home.”
Unilever Philippines and Knorr continue to reach more areas and help improve the nutrition of Filipino children nationwide. They envision to replicate these initiatives to more communities and encourage more families to make better choices for better health.
Unilever Philippines Vice President for Sustainable Business & Communications Ed Sunico said, “Raising healthy kids is not just a duty limited to parents. Communities can contribute to ensure the well-being and securing the future of our children. Unilever believes that a deeper impact on malnutrition can be accomplished when we all work together towards a common goal.”