Filipino nutrition status still a problem, experts say
The Philippine nutrition situation remains a public health problem, according to latest data from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI).
Underweight prevalence has not changed from 2003 to 2015. Prevalence of wasting or thinness among preschool children slightly decreased from 5.1% in 2013 to 3.9% in 2015. Prevalence of stunting, or underheight, increased greatly: 33% from 2013 to 2015.
Health and nutrition interventions, i.e., supplementation, food fortification, nutrition education, and exclusive breastfeeding are in place to address all forms of malnutrition. However, a majority of target populations in the rural areas and among low-income groups are most affected because of lack of access to appropriate services, resulting in poor growth and failure to reach their full human potential.
The data further revealed that the Philippines failed to meet the MDG to reduce undernutrition. With the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that aim to end hunger and achieve food security and adequate nutrition for all, how can rice research contribute?
Genetically modified rice varieties that contain high levels of iron, zinc, and beta-carotene could play an important role in reducing micronutrient deficiency that affects more than 2 billion people around the world.
The unique advantage of genetic modification lies in its ability to incorporate novel genes for useful traits into rice. These include genes from plants and organisms unrelated to rice that could not be transferred using other breeding methods. Genetic modification also greatly increases accuracy in inserting genes—and only those genes—for desired traits into a rice variety.
Golden Rice is a type of genetically modified rice that contains beta-carotene and is being developed as a potential new food-based approach to improving vitamin A status in affected populations. In the Philippines, 1.7 million children aged 6 months to 5 years and about half a million pregnant and lactating women are vitamin A-deficient, according to FNRI.
Thus far, both agronomic and laboratory data from research being done under the Golden Rice project look very promising.
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is the coordinating institution for the Golden Rice Network and has been working with national partners since 2006 to develop Golden Rice.
IRRI is also developing rice varieties rich in iron and zinc, to alleviate deficiencies in these two micronutrients. FNRI reports that 22% of Filipino infants and preschool children suffer from zinc deficiency and 25% of pregnant women are anemic due to low iron levels.
High-iron and high-zinc rice was recently developed, when scientists from IRRI and partner institutions successfully increased iron and zinc levels in polished rice by up to 15 and 45.7 micrograms per gram, respectively. These levels fulfill 30% of the estimated average requirement (EAR) in humans.
Making rice healthier is one way to bring essential micronutrients to the diets of Filipinos. Healthier rice varieties can complement existing interventions to reduce hidden hunger around the world.