Milestone in Food and Nutrition Research in the Philippines PDF Print E-mail

Food and Nutrition Research in the Philippines

The beginnings of food and nutrition research in the Philippines could be traced to the 1920s and '30s,but I think that large scale action arising from the products of food and nutrition research started almost 5 decades go right after the last World War.

The first decade, say 1946-55, saw the successful Bataan Rice Enrichment Experiment led by Dr. Juan Salcedo Jr., which demonstrated the effectiveness of rice fortification in the control of major nutritional deficiency at that time - beriberi. Thus was born a nationwide rice enrichment program based upon the Rice Enrichment Law of 1952, where all rice milled in the country were enriched with thiamine, niacin and iron. This went on for a number of years in the fifties, and by the time the program ran out of steam, beriberi was all but eradicated as a public health problem.

During this time too, the nutrition surveys in our country were carried out, starting with the personnel and families of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. This became the forerunner and national nutrition surveys that have been carried out periodically up to this day.

Upon the creation of the Institute of Nutrition, now the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, the first food analysis laboratory was set up, and soon after we saw the first publication of the Food Composition Tables (FCT) for use in the Philippines. We all know of course how indispensable the FCT is in our work.

The second decade, 1956 to 65, witnessed the conduct of regional nutrition surveys covering one geographic region at a time. These provided the first comprehensive nutrition profile of practically the whole country, furnishing the all important advocacy tool for public health nutrition programs. Thus through the leadership of Dr. Conrado R. Pascual of FNRC and ably assisted by the Nutrition Foundation of the Philippines, the groundwork for coordination of national and local food and nutrition efforts were laid with the organization of National Coordinating Council in Food and Nutrition (NCCFN) in 1960 and the Philippine Federation of Nutrition Councils and Related Agencies in 1965. These served as the forerunner of the present National Nutrition Council (NNC).

The second decade also saw the beginning of research on nutritional requirements of Filipinos led by Dr. Carmen Ll. Intengan using human subjects, starting with calcium, thiamine and riboflavin, as well as protein quality using experimental rats. These provided the basis for the Philippine Recommended Dietary Allowances(RDA), another indispensable tool for nutritionists and dietitians. At this time also, the first aflatoxin laboratory was set up in the country upon the prompting of Dr. Josefina B. Jayme creating awareness of the aflatoxin problem and its relation to primary liver cancer, thus setting the initial efforts towards control of the aflatoxin problem in the Philippines.

The third decade, 1966-75,saw the establishment of weight and height standards for Filipino children and adults,thus serving as an appropriate tool of nutritional assessment of Filipino children not only in national nutrition surveys but in massive weighing of preschool children in all communities in the country dubbed Operation Timbang (OPT) which is still being carried out up to this time. Further studies on nutrition requirements including energy expenditure studies formed the basis for the revision of our RDA. With the creation of the National Nutrition Council and Nutrition Center of the Philippines in 1974, nutrition interventions such as food assistance to malnourished children, malwards in hospitals and communities, and nutrition information and education campaigns, started in earnest all over the country, and needless to say, such interventions put to use scientific knowledge gained through nutrition research and development not only in FNRC/FNRI but in the academe and other agencies, both public and private. Also at this time, various nutrition tools for therapeutic meal planning such as the food exchange list were devised to serve clinical nutrition work.

Coming to the fourth decade, 1976-85, of significance were the conduct of two national nutrition surveys in 1978 and 982,as well as surveys in Metro Manila during the period of economic crisis in 1984 and 1985. All these,together with the national survey of 1987 and the rapid surveys that followed, provided the scientific basis for the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition formulated for the International Conference in Nutrition in 1992.

During the fourth decade also, the minimum protein requirement of other population groups & normal levels of hemoglobin and trace minerals (copper and selenium) of Filipino were established. For the first time, poverty threshold was estimated from the food threshold based on nutritional considerations including nutritional requirements and current regional patterns of food consumption. This method is being carried out to this day.

Finally, during the fifth decade, 1986-95, new anthropometric standards for Filipino children were developed based on a nationwide survey of apparently healthy children. Weight-for-height standards are now available for field use, so that wasting can now be assessed in the field with minimum of training There are now standards for other anthropometric parameters such as chest and head circumference and skinfold thickness for use in clinical practice. As I mentioned earlier, several national surveys were carried out at this time including the Third and Fourth National Nutrition Surveys of 1987 and 1993, respectively. And with the findings of the decline in food consumption together with the increase in the prevalence of wasting and goiter, it is clear that stronger initiatives will need to the pursued along both national and household food security, poverty at all levels, disaster preparedness, and iodine deficiency disorders. Various local studies on dosage for micronutrient supplementation have figured in the design of Araw ng Sangkap Pinoy (ASAP) and iron supplementation programs. Research and development along food fortification of various foods have resulted in micronutrient fortification of salt, margarine, rice, and perhaps soon, wheat and sugar. R&D along commercializable food technologies are at last gaining rapid ground as more entrepreneurs are adopting them and marketing and even exporting nutritional food products. Studies on streetfoods safety and management have resulted in increased awareness of the streetfood industry as one that needs support and improvement, so that models for the improvement of the whole system are gaining acceptance at the national and local levels. This decade also saw the publication of the Nutritional Guidelines for Filipinos, handbooks on enteral nutrition, dietary management of renal disease, prevention of cancer, and prevention of heart disease and diabetes, all of which have arisen as products of research.

These then are some of the milestones in food and nutrition research during the last five decades of service to our people. They have come from the efforts of dedicated men and women not only from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute but from the academe, national government agencies, and private agencies.

Let me now give you my own perception of the priorities in the coming years in food and nutrition research with the objective of generating knowledge as a basis for action. But let me put this set of priorities in the form of research questions.


Nutritional Requirements and Allowances; Nutritional Biochemistry and Physiology


What are the appropriate PAL values (ratio of BMR to Total Energy
Expenditure) among Filipinos of various activity levels to determine
energy requirements more accurately?


Is the light of newer knowledge in the human requirement of essential amino acids, do the current protein allowances still hold?


What are the nutritional requirements of Filipinos for iron in
pregnancy, iodine, zinc, and other micronutrients?


What are the optimum levels of dietary fiber, lipids, sugars and
complex carbohydrates that we should aim for?

Food Composition and Quality; Food Safety

*How much dietary fiber in its various forms is found in Philippine foods? B-carotene and other carotenoids? sugars, starches and complex carbohydrates? iodine in food and water? niacin-equivalent?
*What is the bioavailability of iron, calcium and zinc from our cereals and vegetables?
*How efficient is the conversion of carotenoids from our vegetables and fruits to vitamin A in the body?
*How significant are the emerging pathogens in our food supply? the levels of toxicants and contaminants including heavy metals?
*What Philippine foods may be termed functional foods? What are the physiologic and nutritional effects of these functional foods? What are their active ingredients?

Nutritional Assessment

*How can we simplify dietary intake assessment especially with regards to dietary, energy protein, vitamin A and iron?
*How reliable would assessment of height and wasting be as performed by field workers of minimum skills?
*What field method can we use to assess the nutritional status of pregnant women and estimate the risk of low birth weight?
*What better field methods can we use for the assessment of community prevalence of iron deficiency anemia,vitamin A deficiency, and iodine deficiency disorders?
*What simple and operable Nutrition Surveillance system can we institute? How best do we monitor the effect of macro-economic policies and other medium and long-term factors on nutritional condition of the population?
*What is the epidemiology of goiter in various ecological settings? How much does iodine deficiency and goitrogens contribute to goiter prevalence in the various ecological zones in the Philippines?
*How much does iron deficiency as opposed to infection contribute to the anemic problems in the country?

Nutrition Intervention and Policy 

*How effective are our nutrition interventions as they are currently implemented? How can they be improved? More particularly, how effective are the bi-annual distribution of vitamin A capsule and annual distribution of iodized oil?
*What food assistance system can we institute in the light of the phase-out of donated food commodities?
*How best can we carry out iron supplementation among our target groups such as infants and pregnant women? On the other hand, is iron supplementation indeed necessary under condition of physiologic anemia in pregnancy?
*How much of the anemia and iron deficiency in the Philippines is amenable to nutrition intervention?
*What is the best iron fortification strategy to minimize risk of overload in the male adult population and at the same time be effective for population groups of high risk?
*What new technologies and approaches can be employed for an efficient iron fortification program? vitamin A fortification? Can water iodination succeed?
*What is the appropriate design for a workable quality assurance program for food fortification?
*How best can we improved household food security? How best could the nutrition sector link with innovative micro-credit systems such as the Grameen Bank approach?
*How best can we link with the private sector in improving the nutrition of the labor sector?
*How can we optimally advocate nutritional objectives in food and agriculture planning? Can we apply the Desirable Dietary Pattern approach at the regional and even subregional levels?
*What else can we do to make nutrition information and education campaigns more effective? What innovative nutrition information tools should be designed? Medical, Clinical and Therapeutic Nutrition
*What is the clinical significance of various levels of underweight and over-weight both in children and adults? Are the currently used cut-off points for various anthropometric parameters such as weight for age, weight for height, Body Mass Index valid?
*What is the clinical significance of various levels of biochemical parameters such as serum vitamin A, hemoglobin, cholesterol and other blood lipids?
*How can we improve the physical performance and endurance of our athletes?
*How much is the contribution of coconut oil and salt intake in specific regions on the incidence of cardiovascular disease in these regions?

*How much does nutrition contribution to cancer incidence in our country?
*What are the effective dietary regimens against obesity and other chronic degenerative diseases among Filipinos?

Food Management and Food Technology

*How should complementary feeding be managed among Filipino infant in terms of food composition,manner of preparation & administration?
*What is the best design for a nutrition pyramid as a simple educational tool for Filipinos? What is the most appropriate translation of the RDA into food servings for different population groups?
*What viable technologies can be employed for commercial production of weaning foods? streetfoods? nutritional products?
*What is the most feasible technology for multiple fortification?
*How should the streetfoods industry be managed taking safety and
nutrition consideration into account?


Food and nutrition research in the Philippines has indeed come a long way through the efforts of dedicated men and women, it has grown in five decades from infancy to adulthood, proud of its service to the people. And how did such an achievement come into being? To my mind, it has come into being because it has been molded in Excellence and fired by Relevance

Excellence because those before us never settled for second best but always sought for the best; they donned the spirit of excellence instead of mediocrity, and they put on an attitude of intellectual honesty, precision in their work, truth and exactness in their task.

Relevance because those before us kept abreast with developments around them instead of being complacent with what they were doing, seeking the interaction with fellow scientists in the local and international scene, as well as the workers in the field and the people in the communities, constantly listening to new ideas and views, and then applying such new ideas and information in their plans and in their work


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  Updated  July 2015
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