Filipino food intolerance is the number one cause of hospitalisations for children under six.
But in a country with a booming economy, it is also a major concern for the families of those affected.
A recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that the number of Filipinos living with food intolerance in 2013-14 was almost double the number recorded in 2009-10.
A lack of awareness The WHO report found that only 7.9% of Filipino children were diagnosed with food allergy by age five in 2010-11.
The number of affected children aged 5 to 9 was 2.6%.
The report also found that children with food allergies in the Philippines were twice as likely to be obese as those without food allergies.
But there is a lack of knowledge about what causes food allergies, and how to avoid them.
“There is a big stigma attached to food allergies,” says Dr. Gisela Rota, a paediatric allergist at the University of Adelaide in Australia.
“A lot of parents don’t know what food allergy is, or don’t realise they are allergic to peanuts or eggs.
It’s a big issue and we need to educate the public.”
Food intolerance is a chronic condition that can affect children’s development and wellbeing.
In severe cases, it can lead to hospitalisation, and even death.
A new report by World Health Organisation (WHO), which is based in Geneva, Switzerland, has put the number at 6 million worldwide.
The report highlights that children are more likely to become food intolerant than adults because their bodies don’t produce the appropriate enzyme, which can cause allergic reactions.
“Our analysis shows that children as young as five years old are more at risk than adults of developing food allergy, with about a third of children being diagnosed with an allergy by the age of five,” says Rota.
“It’s not just about the age, it’s about the symptoms, and in fact there is an increased risk of food allergy in children.”
Food intolerances in the children’s community have also been linked to social isolation and poor health outcomes.
“Parents and teachers should be encouraged to share information about food allergy with the parents and to work with the children to identify appropriate and appropriate foods to feed them,” the report says.
The WHO has also found high levels of food intolerance among children in rural areas, particularly in the cities.
In rural areas where food is scarce, children often find it difficult to find nutritious foods to eat.
According to the WHO, one-third of the children in the rural areas tested had reported having a food allergy.
In many rural areas it is easier for children to get enough protein, and they are less likely to get food allergies because they are often able to feed themselves, the report states.
In urban areas, the food supply can be more available and more affordable.
A shortage of nutritious foods for children has also been found in some parts of the country, with high rates of food insecurity.
But a lack in access to healthy and affordable food is a bigger problem.
“In some rural areas the availability of nutritious food is much greater than in urban areas,” says Tania Aragon, a senior researcher at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“Many children in urban districts are eating only rice or potatoes and often don’t get enough to eat, especially in the winter when food is very scarce.”
The WHO says that more needs to be done to educate parents and teachers about food allergies and the importance of providing healthy and nutritious foods.
“We are seeing an increase in food allergies among children, especially among children who are not eating enough,” says Aragon.
“If we continue to focus on providing nutritious food and nutritious diets for all children, we will reduce the risk of future food allergies.”
The World Health Assembly has already proposed an international action plan on food intolerance and a new national strategy for addressing it.
“To reduce the number and severity of food allergies globally, we must build on the progress of WHO and UNICEF, with the support of governments, NGOs, civil society, and others, to promote food sovereignty and provide healthy food, nutrition and physical activity programmes,” says WHO spokesperson Elizabeth N. Fauci.
“More attention needs to focus also on the children and families of children with a food intolerance.”
To help tackle the problem, the WHO and other international organisations have launched the International Food Sovereignty Action Plan, which calls for the implementation of international standards to protect the environment and promote food and nutrition security.
“As the world’s largest economy, we have the power to reduce food and food-related risks for children and their families,” says Fau, who is also director of the UNDP Centre for Food Security and Development.