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Why do we need to have a healthy diet, Part 2

A healthy diet encompasses a wide range of benefits, with positive impacts on nutrition, overall health, economy as well as the environment.

a. Promoting nutrition and health. One positive outcome of consuming healthy diets is good nutrition. Having healthy diets helps protect against under- and overnutrition as well as certain NCDs such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, stroke and cancer. On the other hand, poor nutrition as a consequence of an unhealthy diet can lead to reduced immunity, increased susceptibility to disease, impaired physical and mental development, and reduced productivity.

b. Preventing economic losses. The effects of malnutrition could be long-term and could trap individuals and communities in the vicious cycle of poverty, which can eventually lead to a country’s economic losses by causing impaired physical productivity, poor cognitive function, reduced school attainment, as well as increased health care costs.

Nutritional status in different life stages may directly affect one’s productivity by affecting physical status. For example, severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the womb and in early childhood can cause blindness, dwarfism and mental retardation, all of which could be a hindrance to productivity during adulthood. Anemia during adulthood can affect productivity at work especially of those in physically demanding occupations by causing fatigue, weakness and shortness of breath.

Poor cognitive development and reduced school attainment may originate from early childhood malnutrition. IQ points can be reduced by low birth weight, stunting, iodine deficiency and iron deficiency anemia. Children who were malnourished early in life were found to have worse scores on tests of cognitive function, psychomotor function, and fine motor skills. Malnourished children also had reduced attention spans and lower activity levels. These cognitive skill deficits persist into adulthood and have a direct effect on the economic status of individuals, and in turn, affect the economic status of the community and eventually, of the country. Well-nourished children, on the other hand, are 33% more likely to escape poverty as adults.

A malnourished individual also requires more health services, costs of which fall mainly on the government. Developing countries are spending an average of 2-7% of their health care budgets on direct costs for treatment of obesity and associated chronic diseases. In the Philippines, the loss to the economy as a result of stunting was estimated at Php328 billion in 2013 (Save the Children, 2016).

Hence, improving nutrition contributes to productivity, economic development, and poverty reduction by improving physical work capacity, cognitive development, school performance, and health by reducing disease and mortality.

c. Increased agricultural productivity. Promoting healthy diets increases the demand for healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meat. This would eventually lead to an increase in demand for healthy local foods, supporting local farmers and producers.

d. Reduce food wastage and help the environment. Eating habits can potentially affect the environment through greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from food production and food wastage. GHGs such as water vapor, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and methane, act like a blanket that warms the earth in such a way that it traps these gases. (Source: NNC Talking Points)