Nutrition is the science that interprets the nutrients and other substances in food in relation to maintenance, growth, reproduction, health and disease of organism. It includes ingestion, absorption, assimilation, biosynthesis, catabolism and excretion.
Manager, Nestle Nutrition Institute, Dr Chioma Emma-Nwachukwu, during a virtual training, said that the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic reinforces the desire for good nutrition and sound health. She enjoined Nigerians to improve their immune system by means of right nutrition as a rampart against COVID-19 pandemic: “It is important for every household to improve its immune system by means of right nutrition to fortify against virus and other germs of disease.
“Improving immunity became necessary considering the effects of COVID-19 pandemic currently ravaging and killing millions of people all over the world. The immune system consists of various organs, tissues and cells located in various parts of the body.”
She likened the immune system to police checkpoint: “The immune system is constantly working to protect the body from infection, injury and disease. To ensure that we remain healthy our first duty is to improve our immune system.”
She disclosed that the new COVID-19 disease has brought to limelight the importance of nutrition in boosting immunity in relation to prevention of viruses:
“Nigeria has made progress in tackling under-five stunting and wasting as well as exclusive breastfeeding. However, the Federal Government has made no progress in solving female and male adult obesity, female and male adult diabetes, including; women of reproductive age (WRA) anaemia. The conditions are worsening.”
She pointed out that Nigeria has no data on under-five overweight: “Choose a healthy lifestyle; eat right, exercise regularly, maintain personal hygiene, practice positive stress management, maintain healthy hydration, maintain healthy weight and planned diet.”
She reviewed Nigeria’s national policy efforts on nutrition, health and wellness, and, therefore, advocated that it is important for the country to strengthen its strategy and ensure nutrition security for all ages.
Role of nutrition in public health
Emma-Nwachukwu said: “There have been discussions on role of nutrition in public health. The new coronavirus has brought importance of nutrition in supporting the immune system, relative to viruses such as this to limelight. Nutrition has an important role in supporting the immune system and maintaining proper immune function.”
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), disclosed that at least one in three children is not getting the nutrition they need to grow well, particularly in the crucial first 1,000 days from conception to the child’s second birthday and often beyond:
“An increasing number of children and young people are surviving, but far too few are thriving because of malnutrition. To meet the challenges of the 21st Century, we need to recognise the impact of forces like urbanization and globalization on nutrition, and focus increasingly on using local and global food systems to improve the diets of children, young people, adults and particularly women.
“At least one in three children under five are undernourished or overweight and one in two suffers from hidden hunger, undermining the capacity of millions of children to grow and develop to their full potential. Globally, at least one in three children under five is not growing well due to malnutrition in its more visible forms: stunting, wasting and overweight.
“Globally, at least one in two children under five suffers from hidden hunger due to deficiencies in vitamins and other essential nutrients. Under nutrition continues to exert a heavy toll.
“In 2018, almost 200 million children under five suffered from stunting or wasting while at least 340 million suffered from hidden hunger. Overweight and obesity continue to rise. From 2000–2016, the proportion of overweight children (five to 19-years-old) rose from one in 10 to almost one in five.
“The number of stunted children has declined in all continents, except in Africa while the number of overweight children has increased in all continents, including in Africa.”
Malnutrition, threat to development
Former WHO cabinet director, Dr Derek Yach, February 2002, said the growing epidemic of chronic disease afflicting both developed and developing countries were related to dietary and lifestyle changes:
“The triple burden of malnutrition; under nutrition, hidden hunger and overweight threatens the survival, growth and development of children, young people, economies and nations. Stunting a clear sign that children in a country are not developing well is both a symptom of past deprivation and a predictor of future poverty.”
WHO said people who eat a well-balanced diet tend to be healthier with stronger immune systems and lower risk of chronic illnesses and infectious diseases. Emma-Nwachukwu then advised:
“So, you should eat a variety of fresh and unprocessed foods every day to get the vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, protein and antioxidants your body needs. Avoid sugar, fat and salt to significantly lower your risk of overweight, obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
“Eat fresh and unprocessed foods every day. Eat fruits, vegetables, legumes (e.g. lentils, beans), nuts and whole grains (e.g. unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat, brown rice or starchy tubers or roots such as potato, yam, taro or cassava), and foods from animal sources (e.g. meat, fish, eggs and milk).
“For snacks, choose raw vegetables and fresh fruit rather than foods that are high in sugar, fat or salt. Do not overcook vegetables and fruit as this can lead to the loss of important vitamins.
“Also, drink enough water every day. Water is essential for life. It transports nutrients and compounds in blood, regulates your body temperature, gets rid of waste, and lubricates and cushions joints. Water is the best choice, but you can also consume other drinks, fruits and vegetables that contain water,” she stated.
“Avoid eating out. Eat at home to reduce your rate of contact with other people and lower your chance of being exposed to COVID-19. On physical distancing, that is not always possible in crowded social settings like restaurants, bars and cafes. Droplets from infected people may land on surfaces and people’s hands (e.g. customers and staff), and with lots of people coming and going, you cannot tell if hands are being washed regularly enough, and surfaces are being cleaned and disinfected fast enough.
“Counselling and psychosocial support also important, while proper nutrition and hydration improve health and immunity, they are not magic bullets. People living with chronic illnesses, who have suspected or confirmed COVID-19 may need support with their mental health and diet to ensure they keep in good health. Seek counselling and psychosocial support from appropriately trained health care professionals and also community-based lay and peer counsellors,” advised WHO.