MANILA, February 4, 2011 (AFP) – A third of Philippine school children are stunted because poverty has forced them to eat too little food for years, according to a government study released this week.

The latest findings of a rolling survey carried out for decades by the government’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute reflect the general poverty rate and the boom-and-bust economic cycles of the country.

The latest data, which is for 2008 but was only released on Thursday, showed 33.1 percent of 100,000 students surveyed across the country suffered from chronic malnutrition.

This was due to them not eating enough food over a long period and led to them being shorter than they should be, although the survey did not publish specific heights.

“Being underheight is a result of a long period of inadequate nutrition,” Eva Goyena, a science research specialist at the institute, told AFP on Friday.

The chronic malnutrition rate had risen slightly from 32 percent in 2005, the last time the survey was carried out, but was down from a high of 44.8 percent recorded in 1990.

The 2008 study found that Philippine students aged between six and 12 consumed an average of 599 grams (21.13 ounces) of food a day.

Half of the food was steamed rice, while 76 grams were fish and 33 grams were milk products.

“This is really inadequate because rice is mostly carbohydrates for energy and there are more protein-rich foods than fish,” Goyena said.

She said a long-term diet of this type would lead to the child becoming stunted.

The malnourished children were deficient in key nutrients such as iron, Vitamin A, calcium and iodine, according to Goyena.

Chronic malnutrition begins in infancy, the study suggested, with more than eight in 10 Philippine toddlers aged between six months and five years not eating enough to meet the recommended daily energy and nutrient intake.

Acute malnutrition, which reflects more recent setbacks such as illness or failing to eat properly over the past week, stood at 25.6 percent in 2008 among school children, up from 22.8 percent in 2005.