Breaking free from bad eating habit

Small colorful tables and chairs adorned a large covered space outside a village hall where several mothers sit in a group. The young children, sitting at their mother’s side, seem to be at different stages of malnutrition.

The mothers are attending a weeklong nutrition classes called Positive Deviance Hearth (PDH) conducted by trained community health workers. PDH aims to rehabilitate malnourished children by changing the caregiver’s feeding and hygiene habits towards children, especially those below 5 years of age.

Irene, 28, used to diligently attend these classes that last for a week. Her son, John, 4, was malnourished after a health worker checked him. Irene was asked to come back the next day to join PDH sessions.

“It was my first time to attend an orientation like that,” Irene says. “I didn’t know that a child’s meal has a big effect while he/she is growing up. I thought the meals I prepared everyday were enough for my son. I was wrong.”

Like Irene, most caregivers feed their young children with too little of the food they do need, and too much of the food they don’t need, which leads to malnutrition.

In the Philippines, one in three children under five years old are stunted, which means they are too short for their age, while roughly 7 per cent of children are too thin for their height, a 2019 UNICEF study entitled “The State of the World’s Children: Children, Food and Nutrition” revealed.

For a week, Irene attended the PDH classes, learning to cook nutrient-rich food made from ingredients that can be found in her community such as eggs, moringa and banana. PDH sessions also taught her hygienic food preparation such as thoroughly washing raw food, and handwashing before and after going to the toilet.

Irene shares how she learned to prepare juice made from sweet potato leaves and calamansi, and deep-fried fritters made from squash. “John likes the juice made from calamansi and potato leaves extract,” she says.

Irene picks the ingredients mostly from her garden where she grows vegetables that she also received from Roots to Shoots, a three-year program aimed at improving the nutrition and food security status of undernourished communities in Camarines Sur through various community activities such as PDH, vegetable farming and constructing or repairing WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) facilities.

After the PDH classes, health workers would visit the attendees for weeks to help them practice the new positive behavior that they just learned.

After 90 days, Irene noticed a change in John. “He’s a bit alert lately and eats well,” she says. Her recent visit to their health clinic shows that John’s weight has improved.


Good appetite, alert and lively, sleeps uninterruptedly, has regular bowel movement, and has the right weight for height are few of the signs of a well-nourished child.

Now on its second year, Roots to Shoots program has provided more than 1,700 households with nutrition and health orientation and intervention, 600 individuals were given assistance on vegetable farming, and 7,000 individuals are now benefiting from several WASH facilities established in two villages in Camarines Sur.

Roots to Shoots is implemented by Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Manila Water and World Vision.

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