The milk lobby has long been very effective in convincing people that milk is an essential part of good nutrition. Nowhere more than in the Philippines. Filipino parents are utterly convinced that milk (and vitamin pills) are essential for the health of children, along with excessive rice consumption. The end result is still a whole lot of child malnutrition among Filipino children.
Milk products for children in the Philippines
Most Filipino mothers will breastfeed, I’m happy to say. Yet at some stage the milk products appear, and kids who are 5, 6 and 7 can still be found lying on the floor sucking out of bottles. Sometimes 5 or more bottles a day of milk formula.
And the ads on TV will promote the benefits to children of different milk products, often with exorbitant claims of benefits like increased height and doing better in school. Truth in advertising laws are not heavily enforced here, you soon discover. There are even milk products aimed at the elderly, with ads showing Lolo finally remembering his wedding anniversary thanks to the brain-revitalising benefits gained.
And I say “milk products” because you see very little fresh milk here. It’s not really a dairy country. Dairy cattle do best in temperate climates and not in the tropics. So mostly what we’re talking about is canned powder with added chemicals.
Yet despite the encouraged consumption of milk products, malnutrition and specific nutrient deficiencies (anemia, Vitamin A deficiency, Vitamin D deficiency, calcium deficiency, etc) is rife throughout the country and very notable in kids. Diets tend to be high in carbohydrate and fat, whilst low in protein and vitamins. Carbohydrate allows bodies enough energy to move about, but it doesn’t build growing bodies like protein and vitamins.
The Australian diet by comparison.
I grew up like a typical suburban Australian through the late 60’s and 70’s eating the standard Australian diet. Meat and three veg dinners. Bowl of fruit on the table. Eggs for breakfast. Vegemite sandwiches for lunch. And my (Aussie) kids grew up much the same, except with a bit more variety than meat and three veg. Still, always meat and veges and carbohydrates in a healthy proportion. And I ended up with 6’ tall sons with no stunting.
And know what? No milk products! And no daily vitamins! Never once had a doctor in Australia say “Give this child milk!” or to prescribe multivitamins. Never happened, nor did it ever happen with anyone else I knew. Eldest son Greg had a bottle of milk (ie milk, and not powder) at night up until he was maybe 2. Jeremy never drank from a bottle in his life. And I was the same. No living memory of ever drinking milk, which means I must have been very young the last time I had any.
Yet in Australia you don’t see stunted kids. You don’t see kids with brown stumps in their mouths where teeth used to be. And it has nothing to do with the consumption of milk and vitamins, rest assured. It has all to do with balanced diets. The consumption of enough building blocks (protein and vitamins) to make kids grow normally.
Better alternatives to the Filipino diet
The common response you get when you suggest to Filipinos that their kids should eat better is that they can’t afford it. And yes, this is often the case. But I whilst I acknowledge that many people can’t feed their kids on steak and an array of fresh fruit, there are still changes that can be made to get the balance right.
Protein: Fish is fairly cheap, and it’s a fine source of protein. And legumes like mung beans (mongo) are 24% protein, and full of iron and calcium! And they’re cheap! And eggs are a great kid-food. Low in harmful cholesterol, and loaded with protein. Nature designed eggs as baby-food. My kids eat eggs every day, and they are all solid muscle.
Vitamins: Vegetables (gulay) are the best source of vitamins available. Yet there are many who simply won’t eat them, because they think that’s what the poorest of the poor eat. Bad mistake. They should be a part of every meal. And seasonal local vegetables can be bought at the local market economically. If kids grow up on them, they get used to eating them.
Carbohydrate: Proportionally no plate should contain more than 1/3 of a carbohydrate source, be that rice, potatoes, pasta or noodles. Not 90% rice-mountain with a splash or brown water and a teaspoon of fatty pork. Our household rule is 1/3 rice, 1/3 vegetable, 1/3 meat. And we have a house full of healthy kids. No stunting. No rotten teeth. So it clearly works.