Stemming the upsurge of malnutrition among children
The ranking of Nigeria among countries with the highest number of children suffering from malnutrition definitely calls for concern. Nutrition has a powerful influence on growth, development, and the productive life of every individual. Optimal nutrition at each stage of the life cycle 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. According to a report by the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) on malnutrition burden in Nigeria, stunting, wasting and underweight rates have worsened in the country when compared to the same survey in 2015. The MICS in 2017 puts Nigeria’s stunting rate at 43.3 per cent, as against 32.9 per cent in the 2015 survey. It shows that in 2017, the rate of wasting was 10.8 per cent, while in 2015; the figure was 7.2 per cent. The study also shows that underweight rate in the country was at 31.5 per cent in 2017, while in 2015, the rate was 19.4 per cent. Global records recently showed that while stunting and other forms of malnutrition have reduced worldwide, from 198 million to 151 million people, the burden is presently increasing at an alarming rate in West and Central Africa, from 22.8 million to 28.8 million people. Incidentally, ignorance of what is adequate diet, poverty and lip-service to strategic plan of action on nutrition by the 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. But under-nutrition has continued 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. Dishing 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 prefer 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. 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. We are of he opinion that 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 fresh 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. Sadly too, lifestyles have changed for the worse and not many Nigerian homes have gardens and poultries from which adequate protein could be sourced for consumption particularly, in the urban areas, which is why the urban poor languish more in malnourishment. Mass poverty, no doubt, remains a major hindrance to life lived in abundance by Nigerians. We therefore submit that while it is the duty of government to see to the welfare of the citizenry, families should give adequate attention to their children and their feeding habits. There should be home gardens where vegetables are planted even in the urban areas. Education of course, is key. The Ministries of Health, particularly, at the state level, should use local languages on all media platforms to sensitise people on how to give children balanced diet, using nutrient-rich local foods. We believe that this development will reduce malnutrition among children to barest minimum.