Low IQ?

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

There is a post on Facebook featuring a table showing the ranking of ASEAN countries according to IQ. The Philippines is last on the list. Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar ranked higher.

There has to be something wrong. I simply cannot believe our IQ level is lowest in the region or has deteriorated that badly. On the contrary, we should be one of those on top of that list. We have proven ourselves highly intelligent in many fields and in many countries all over the world.

Indeed, we may be too intelligent for our own good. Sobrang maabilidad. Lulusot at lulusot! Only a Filipino can conjure of such legal twilight zones used to oust the chief justice and take back an amnesty given to a senator who was once a military rebel. 

But what if the data presented on IQ levels are accurate? It may partly explain why we elect the kind of officials that we have. Our future generations may end up with a country even further left behind.

I am afraid that hurtful as it sounds, our IQ level as a people may indeed be declining. That’s because poverty continues to plague a good number of our people. Our high birth rate, specially among those who remain dirt poor, aggravates the problem.

With poverty comes hunger. The second quarter 2018 Social Weather Survey, conducted from June 27-30, found that 9.4 percent or an estimated 2.2 million families experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months. Overall, hunger is up by seven points in Metro Manila, four points in Mindanao; down 3.7 points each in Visayas and Balance Luzon.

The measure of Hunger refers to involuntary suffering because the respondents answer a survey question that specifies hunger due to lack of food to eat. The 9.4 percent quarterly hunger in June 2018 is the sum of 8.1 percent (est. 1.9 million families) who experienced moderate hunger and 1.3 percent (est. 294,000 families) who experienced severe hunger.

Even for those who manage to eat something, it is easy to assume they are not eating enough nutritious food. There was a documentary I caught on local television about how our urban poor eat “pagpag” or leftover food from restaurants that they re-cook.

It is easy to assume that the growing children in poor families go hungry as well. My daughter, who did practice teaching in an elementary school in Balara as part of her college course, told me that a lot of the grade one pupils in her class go to school hungry.

Indeed, how can hungry children learn? And because they often get hungry, we can assume they get very little of the nutrition needed by growing children. If the brain doesn’t get the proper nutrition at a very early age, the child doesn’t learn as well.

I understand that from birth to three or five years is most crucial for brain development. If a child fails to get proper nutrition during those years, IQ level may be compromised for life.

Scientific studies have long correlated development of the brain with nutrition a child may or may not have had at specific times of their lives. I googled the subject and found the website of University World News.

It had an article quoting Dr Sophie von Stumm, concluding that childhood nutrition had longstanding effects on IQ, even after the child’s original intelligence and socio-economic status were taken into account.

“Higher socio-economic status was positively associated with IQ gains because it increased the probability of providing a healthier diet for children. Conversely, lower socio-economic status was linked to a higher frequency of children having fast food, which led to lower intelligence.”

“These children,” Von Stumm said, “score lower on intelligence tests and often struggle in school. Schools in less privileged areas must do even more to balance children’s diet so they can achieve their cognitive potential.

“It goes to show that the freshness and quality of food matters more than just being full, in particular when children are young and developing.”

The Annals of Nutritional Disorders and Therapy cited a study that points out “malnutrition hinders cognitive development and is one of the contributing factors to generally poor school performance among children from low socio-economic communities. In addition, malnutrition can affect age of enrollment in school, concentration in class, attendance, and infection rates.

“Previous studies done all over the world shows that treating nutritional and health conditions of school children can improve their academic performance. For example, some school food programs have shown dramatic effects on attendance and school achievements… children in schools provided food services scored significantly higher in tests than those in schools without food services.”

Why is it important for us to take care of all of our children and make sure they get the nutrition they need to develop their brains? Our future depends on doing that.

Some of our economists love to talk of our country enjoying a demographic sweet spot or the point at which the birth rate begins to decline and the majority of the population is of working age. Our growth rate is not declining fast enough compared to our ASEAN peers.

And while a majority of our population is working age, lingering poverty, poor access to health care and yes, lower IQ, affects what they can contribute to economic growth. What to do seems basic and obvious, but government priorities seem to be elsewhere.

A massive cut in the health budget will make things worse specially for mothers and young children who need public health care most. The education budget is also getting a big cut.

But a good school feeding program should help a lot. Being able to identify and develop high learners early with special programs should also be good. Low IQ is the result of neglect and corruption. We know the cure.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.



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