By Rasak Musbau
Education and awareness are the first steps to understanding and solving any problem. The problem of malnutrition is not an exception. The ranking of Nigeria among countries with the highest number of children suffering from malnutrition is alarming. Nigeria is said to be in technical economic recession with prices of essential commodities rising on a daily basis whereas incomes of average Nigerians shrink amid worsening unemployment. This situation naturally condemns people to unhealthy diet. Now, people think of what to eat; not the luxury of adequate nutrition.
Naturally, when prices rise, consumers shift to cheaper and less nutritious foods, thus heightening the risk of micronutrient deficiencies and other forms of malnutrition, which can have long-term adverse effects on people’s health, development and productivity.
Malnutrition accounts for 11 percent of the global burden of disease and is considered the number one risk to health worldwide. From economic perspective, available statistics indicate that countries may lose two to three percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a result of iron, iodine, and zinc deficiencies. Iodine deficiency has also been identified as the greatest single cause of mental retardation and brain damage.
Pathetically, ignorance of what is adequate diet, poverty and lip-service to strategic plan of action on nutrition by Nigerian government has affected the intake of nutritious food in Nigeria. A review of trends in economic growth, health and nutrition in Nigeria indicates that the country is undergoing rapid socioeconomic, demographic, nutritional and health transitions. Under-nutrition continues to be persistently high and remains a challenge. Lately, the media is full of statistics about how Nigeria is home to the highest number of stunted children in the continent, percentage of wasted and under-weight children. Unfortunately, the statistics do not result in the adoption of essential family practices. It does not stop badly cooked food being served in private homes, restaurants, hotels and boarding houses.
Churning out statistics is not solving the problem of inadequate-nutrition. Too often we choose our food for reasons of convenience, taste, availability and social acceptance. We learned to love sugar and fat as kids. Many eat rice consistently for as much as thrice a day. Nutrition is the intake of food, considered in relation to the body’s dietary needs.
Nutrition has a powerful influence on growth, development, and the productive life of every individual. Optimal nutrition at each stage of the lifecycle is therefore a fundamental human right. Furthermore, nutrition is linked to most of, if not all, the Strategic Development Goals (SDGs) and the right to food, adequate nutrition, and healthcare are fundamental to achieving the SDGs. Malnutrition is the lack of proper nutrition, caused by not having enough to eat, not eating enough of the right things, or being unable to use the food that one eats. Over-nutrition is also malnutrition. In children, malnutrition thrives when children go hungry or feed on monotonous diets based on highly processed carbohydrates, little fresh vegetables and no fruit.
They are likely to have poor nutritional status-particularly insufficient micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) which are essential for building good immunity, enabling efficient metabolism and full body functioning. It is, therefore, desirable to address and remove the conditions that make malnutrition thrive.
First, advocacy need to become loudest on the importance of taking adequate care of pregnant women with adequate nutrition and for the women to practice exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after birth. Exclusive breastfeeding is said to reduce 50 per cent of killer diseases in children. The practice of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life and the introduction of adequate complementary diet till the first two years of life are key to child survival and optimal growth.
It is also crucial that individuals adopt a nutrition-based approach to food choices and eating habits to avoid the long-term effects of lifestyle malnutrition. In essence, this means changing from a diet high in animal products, refined and processed foods to one that is rich in fresh, wholesome foods, especially fruit and vegetables.
Another thing that needs advocacy is the promotion of natural foods, because they contain “life forces,” which is defined in terms of minerals and vitamins. Call them what you like, the fact remains that only the freshest of foods, whether they are fruits, vegetables, milk, flesh or grains have their maximum quota of these life-giving elements.
From the afore-mentioned, our objective against malnutrition will be better achieved if we focus on addressing issues of status of women, the care of pregnant mothers and children under two, breastfeeding and importance of adequate nutrition and health. This is where telecommunication companies as well as the mass media should come up with public education on how to achieve optimum nutrition.
Musbau writes from Lagos.