The study, by Save the Children, suggests that childhood stunting cost the Philippines almost 3% of its GDP in 2013.
Of this figure, PHP166.5bn (US$3.6bn) represented lost income from lower education levels by workers who had suffered from childhood stunting, while a similar figure represented lost productivity due to premature deaths. A further PHP1.2bn came from additional education costs to cover grade repetitions linked to undernutrition.
Ned Olney, the charity’s country director, said the study proved that undernutrition bore a cost to the entire population.
“In just a year, the Philippines has lost almost 3% of its GDP in terms of education and productivity costs due to stunting. If we add up health costs, the likely impact would be an additional 0.05-1.6%,” he said.
The report shows that undernutrition is linked to lower human capital. Children who are stunted in the first two years of life are more likely to repeat grade levels, drop out of school, delay school entry and have lower income levels when they enter the workforce.
“If stunting rates continue to rise, it would be difficult for families to break free from poverty. Any investment in reducing childhood undernutrition will reduce suffering and poverty, and will ultimately stimulate economic growth for all Filipinos,” said Olney.
Yet government investment in nutrition programmes is still very low, at only 0.52% of overall health expenditure, compared to the global average of 2.1%, the study found.
“Nutrition is the cornerstone of all development efforts. This new report tells us that for every US$1 spent on programs to avert stunting in children below two years old, the Philippines could save over US$100 in health, education, and lost productivity costs,” Olney added.