Except Nigeria places nutrition on its top priority list, experts in the field say malnutrition will not only continue to have increased devastating impact on the physical and mental development of her children, it will also deny the country of sound and visionary leaders that could lead the nation to greatness.
Government can do this, they say, by ensuring nutrition is not excluded in its national development strategies and to improve spending on agriculture which will help to eliminate hunger in the country.
They also suggest Federal Government create a separate budget line for nutrition, stressing that no country can make significant progress without placing nutrition and well-being of her citizens on the front burner.
Reports have shown that low-quality diets are a driving force in increasing rates of overweight, obesity and chronic conditions like high blood pressure, while also fueling non-communicable diseases, like diabetes and heart disease.
One of the experts, a former President of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria, Prof. Babatunde Oguntona, enjoined Nigerians to consume foods rich in micronutrients like fish, meat, fruits and vegetables. “Inadequate iodine in our foods is a serious threat. If we don’t keep iodine level properly, we will have 13% of Nigerian children mentally deformed,” he said.
Oguntona was speaking at a Nutrition Symposium on “Malnutrition, Child Development and the Media” organised by the Media Centre Against Child Malnutrition (MeCAM) in Lagos recently. He urged FG to pay more attention to nutrition of children in the country and scale up funding of malnutrition interventions.
Such interventions, he assured, will save between 13 and 18 Nigerian children who die of malnutrition and related diseases every hour and called on the media to step up advocacy on the issue.
“Apart from recorded deaths, you could imagine the implication of having 13 per cent of mentally deformed children becoming parliamentarians and what the country would look like. You can’t talk of development when you ignore the issue of nutrition status of your people”, he said.
Praising the school feeding programme of the present government, Oguntona noted that the strategy will help make up for children that are marginally malnourished by providing them with the missing nutrients.
“First, we have a lot of children in this country who have escaped childhood period and carried over a lot of nutrient deficiency into their early school years, but they are able to continue; the longer they live, the more nutritional deficiency takes effect.
“So a country that is wise will catch them at the school level and try as much as possible to make up for that deficiency through adequate school meals,” he said.
In conclusion, Adetona said it is only when you do that that you can turn out children who will develop the country. If you fail to do that, you are going to lose a lot of children to malnutrition – and they will continue to carry it over into adulthood. “Such adults cannot truly, sustainably, develop in a country,” he concluded.
Already, research shows that poor nutrition has severe impact on the health and well-being of an individual than unsafe sex, alcohol dependence, drug abuse and tobacco use put together. In this regard, stakeholders are concerned that, without immediate action, the situation would worsen dramatically over the next 20 years as population growth, climate change and urbanisation are having negative impact on foods systems.
A project manager at the Civil Society on Scaling Up Nutrition Nigeria (CS-SUNN), Sunday Okoronkwo, in his contribution, said Nigeria currently lacks proper funding to address the problem of malnutrition, stressing that the number of stunted children in the country could most likely be higher than 11 million.
Okoronkwo, who represented the CS-SUNN project director, Mrs Beatrice Eluaka, pointed out that Nigeria’s $100 million counterpart funding of the policy is hardly captured in the annual federal budgets.
Declaring that preventing malnutrition is more cost effective than treating the condition, National Coordinator of MeCAM, Mr. Remmy Nweke, suggested that children with malnutrition be treated early to reduce severe consequences on the mental development of the child.
“It’s time we engage the populace and policy makers towards seeking improved attention for malnutrition, especially in children,” he said.
Other bodies that graced the occasion include, Community Health and Research Initiative (CHRI); Scaling Up Nutrition Business Network Nigeria and Global Alliance on Improved Nutrition (GAIN) as well as civil society groups in the advocacy of good nutrition also graced the occasion.