Malnutrition continues to be a public health issue in the Philippines affecting infants and school children. In a national survey conducted in 2008 by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST), approximately 3.35 million (26.2 percent) infants and children ages 0-5 years old are underweight, while 3.57 million (27.9 percent) are underheight. Meanwhile, around 2.58 million (25.6 percent) and 33.34 million (33.1 percent) children ages 6-10 years old are underweight and underheight, respectively. The increasing prevalence continues unless the issue of malnutrition has been fully addressed.
Corn as highly nutritious staple food
Corn has always been tagged as “poor man’s rice” due to its popularity as an alternative staple food for Filipinos. Although seen as food for the less privileged, corn has high nutritional value. It is rich in protein, fat, fiber, and other essential vitamins and minerals including folate, iron, niacin, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, copper, and zinc. Corn also contains two essential amino acids, lysine and tryptophan, which provide numerous health benefits.
Lysine is important in various body functions such as production of antibodies, hormones and enzymes, bone and muscle development, tissue repair, calcium absorption, nitrogen balance and collagen formation. Tryptophan is also an essential amino acid which cannot be synthesized in the body and therefore must be part of the diet. It plays two vital functions such as in serotonin and niacin synthesis. Further, tryptophan is the precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin which is important for brain functions and related regulatory mechanism such as those involving appetite, sleep patterns, and mood. Since tryptophan has the ability to raise serotonin levels, it is used to treat conditions like insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Just like lysine, tryptophan is also essential for normal growth and development of infants specifically in the brain maturation as well as the neurobehavioral regulations of food intake and satiation.
Combating malnutrition through quality protein corn
Dr. Artemio M. Salazar and his team from the Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB-IPB) bred and developed the QPM Var 6, also known as High Lysine and Tryptophan Corn in 2000. According to Dr. Salazar, they have acquired Quality Protein Maize (QPM) because they have found out that it improved the nutritional status and health of poor Africans.
Based on R&D initiatives, it was found out that QPM Var 6 contains 66.2 percent more lysine than the regular white corn. It also contains more tryptophan and protein content and has more dietary fiber, minerals, and anti-oxidants than rice alone.
Realizing the huge potential of QPM in addressing malnutrition among actively growing children, Dr. Salazar and his team conducted further studies to enhance the development of better quality, genetically stable, and highly nutritious corn varieties through utilization of advanced equipment and facilities. Thus, they initiated a project titled, “Enhancing Nutritional and Grain Qualities of White Corn for Food: Updates on Promotional Activities for White QPM (Quality Protein Maize),” which was funded by BAR.
The project started in July 2011 with the aim to develop white corn open-pollinated varieties (OPV) which are high yielding and to develop improved nutritional and eating qualities. Specifically, the project aims to: 1) improve the eating quality of the present high protein quality corn by monitoring the level of different starch components using near infra red spectroscopy, 2) enhance the effectiveness of selection for higher lysine and tryptophan content in the high protein quality corn breeding population using molecular markers and near infra red spectroscopy, 3) monitor the level of different endosperm components related to nutritional feature of flint corn as food grain, and 4) develop inbred lines with improved nutritional quality using molecular markers technology.
Promoting quality protein corn
In an effort to promote the nutritional benefits of rice-corn blend as well as to identify the beneficiaries’ level of acceptance, the UPLB-IPB, in collaboration with the UPLB-College of Human Ecology (CHE), conducted a series of feeding programs in public schools. Among them were: Commonwealth Elementary School in Quezon City and Bernardo N. (BN) Calara Elementary School in Los Baños, Laguna.
Feeding Program in BN Calara Elementary School started from 26 November 2012 to 18 March 2013. Participants were composed of 140 students, both male and female who are classified as malnourished. The students were divided into 2 groups: Group 1 (70 students) who were fed with rice and viand during lunch time; and Group 2 (70 students) who were fed with rice IPB Var 6 corn, 50:50 and viand during lunch time from Monday to Friday. Before the actual feeding program and two weeks thereafter, weight, height and Mean under Arm Circumference (MUAC) were measured. Meals were also measured and served in terms of its content and calorie value. The activity was supervised with the help of B.S. Nutrition graduates from UPLB. According to Dr. Salazar, students’ academic performances and active participations were also checked and monitored by the school teachers.
Significant findings of the feeding program included higher weight gains in children fed with rice composites compared with rice alone. Further, higher weight increases were more significant among younger children specifically from Kindergarten to Grade 4.
The group fed with pure rice-corn blend gained an average of 1.82 kilograms compared to the 1.49 kilograms of the group fed with pure rice only. Also, rice-corn blend/rice composite with 50:50 ratio is indeed acceptable by the children. To date, this activity has been continually supported not only by barangay officials but also by Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). BN Calara Elementary School has been continuously conducting the feeding program and is managed by the PTA President. According to Mrs. Lita C. Cortez, PTA president, the students who joined the feeding program have increased their weight. “Meron ngang iba, nag-overweight pa,” Mrs. Cortez testified. Another relevant feedback was the consistent initiative and cooperation among PTA members wherein mothers with healthy child are also actively helping during the feeding program. Also, the PTA president said that they are going to distribute the remaining packs of IPB Var 6 corn varieties to students on their Recognition Day.
Due to this popular and successful promotional activity, Dr. Art and the rest of his team are planning to extend the coverage of the feeding program. “We are planning to implement the feeding program in Los Baños, Laguna or even nationwide,” he said. ###
By: Liza Angelica D. Barral
1. 7th National Nutrition Survey: 2008, Anthropometric Survey Component, Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI)
2. Barroga-Jamias, Serlie, True Grit from Corn Grits: Food of the Champions Pacman Promotes Protein-Rich Corn as Rice Supplement, Horizon, Vol. 2 No. 1, January-March 2014, p 12-15
3. Salazar, Artemio A., Update on Promotional Activities for White QPM, Presentation at Hillcreek Garden, Barangay Sikat, Alfonso, Cavite, 20 Nov 2013
4. What are the Benefits of L Tryptophan? By Lucy D’Berry, Demand Media, retrieved from www.healthyeating.sfgate.com/benefits-l-tryptophan-6668.html