For a child to achieve every stage of development, adequate nutrition is key. A highly nutritious diet ensures growth.
Giving insight on the importance of nutritious food, German philosopher, Ludwig Andreas Van Feurback, in 1864 recognised the impact of food and said, “Man is what he eats”.
This assertion was also corroborated by King in 2012, who said ‘food is the fuel that drives our activities and help nurture our systems while playing a pivotal role in our daily sustenance.’
Adequate quantity and consistency of nutrients has a huge impact on growth and development of our physical and cognitive ability.
Inspite of these, it is an unfortunate reality to note that nutrition continues to have such a perennially low profile in Nigeria.
Adequate food and optimal nutritional status are the foundation blocks for the building of healthy, secure live and thus form the basis of development of any nation.
The basic drivers of malnutrition are; poverty, failure in governance, institutional weaknesses, gender issues, the underlying causes are; food insecurity, inadequate care, access to health care services, while the immediate causes of malnutrition are; inappropriate food intake and diseases.
Malnutrition however presents itself as follows; under nutrition, over nutrition, mineral deficiency and vitamin deficiency
To curb child malnutrition, exclusive breastfeeding of infants for six months has been recommended by World Health Organisation, (WHO) as the breast milk contains all the nutritional value a child needs for proper growth.
Habibat, a 26 year old young mother of twin boys from a family of eight and the first born child, was put in the family way by a young man, Adigun, 30, who hawks sachet water also known as ‘pure’ water to survive.
Habibat, whose father is late, has her mother who sells bean cake popularly known as ‘Akara’ barely enough to feed herself and her eight children, was full of rage when her daughter was confirmed pregnant at the health centre.
“My mother told me she cannot take care of me and the pregnancy, so I had to start hawking pure water to support myself. Sometimes, I forget that I haven’t eaten all day and I also miss my antenatal visit to the health centre. When I gave birth to my twin boys, the demand increased financially. I had to go back to the street to sell ‘pure’ water at Akute in Ogun State here. Sometimes I hawk up till Isheri/Berger area of Lagos State. Akute and Berger is not too far from each other,” she explains pitifully.
“When I am out to hawk, my children Taiye and Kehinde feed on just pap with no soya beans milk because I cannot afford it and when I come back in the evening, I give them breast milk. I have heard of exclusive breast feeding but if I feed them only on breast milk, how will I go out and source for money. I hardly see enough food to eat,” the mother of two said.
As a result of the poor feeding, the twins are exhibiting symptoms of low weight for height (wasted) and low weight for age (under-weight). Habibat revealed that the twins took their first step at 15 months of age and are currently 3 years old and not yet in school.
Habibat, a West African Examination Council (WAEC) holder, said sometimes she takes her children on alphabet and numerals since she cannot afford to pay for foundation class.
When asked if the kids are learning fast, she complained of their slowness academically and the difficulty she goes through just to teach them.
This is just two out of millions of children in Nigeria facing the challenge of malnutrition.
When contacted to throw more light on the harmful effect of child malnutrition and how exclusive breast feeding can curb the menace, a Professor of Human Nutrition and former National President of Nutrition Society of Nigeria, Ignatius Onimawo, revealed that “Exclusive breast feeding is the best for any child up to age of six months.
There is no water for the child during this period because the breast milk contains enough water for the child. After the six months, continuous breastfeeding and adequate complementary foods until 24 months.
“There are many benefits of exclusive breast feeding which includes; optimum growth, adequate mental development, prevention of illnesses, like diarrhoea, infections, savings on hospital bills. The mother also benefits in weight reduction and prevention of pregnancy during the period.”
Prof. Onimawo said exclusive breast feeding prevents childhood obesity and the associated non- communicable diseases in adulthood, adding that the mother only needs to be adequately fed on normal family diet.
Contrary to opinion that exclusive breastfeeding is expensive as the nursing mother eats more food than usual, Onimawo revealed that “it is cheaper when compared to what is spent on baby formula, hospital bills, energy cost of boiling water and sterilization of bottles, cups and spoons, and above all the consequences of non-communicable diseases like diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases later in life.”
With Nigeria currently recording a huge number of malnourished children, the Gross Domestic Product, (GDP) might just be affected years from now as malnutrition accounts for low Intelligent Quotient, (IQ) of an individual.
The National Bureau of Statistics in a recent report opined that globally almost seven million children under the age of five die every year. Under nutrition accounts for 35 percent of all deaths among children under five.
Every single day in Nigeria, malnutrition accounts for 2,300 under five deaths and 145 women of child bearing age and this makes the country the second largest contributor to the under-five and maternal mortality rate in the world.
Data by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said annually, up to one million children die before the age of five in Nigeria, 50 percent of the cause is under nutrition, and 26 percent are neonatal deaths and figures by World Bank suggests that Nigeria loses over US$1.5 billion in GDP annually to vitamin and mineral deficiencies alone.
Also, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), puts 39 percent of Nigerians as living below the poverty line. Children from the poorest economic quartile are four times more likely to be malnourished than children from the richest household.
Similarly, a survey by UNICEF indicates stunting in children under age-five at national level at 32.9 percent, while South West is put at 17.5, also wasting at national level is 7.2 percent and South West 6.2 and the national indices of underweight children is 19.4 percent while South West is 12.2 percent.
Malnutrition do not just make the child stunted, wasted, it also prevents the child from achieving his potential and children who are malnourished in their first two years of life lose 11cm of potential height
To curb malnutrition in infants, exclusive breastfeeding of infants for six months has been recommended by World Health Organisation (WHO) as the breast milk contains all the nutritional value a child needs for proper growth.
However, to stem malnutrition in children, soy-flour production which is a therapeutic food for the management of various category of malnutrition should be encouraged at all levels and sustained by the government especially Severe Acute Malnutrition.
The National Strategic Plan of Action for Nutrition (NSPAN) 2014 to 2019 which contains the health sector components of national food and nutritional policy should be implemented by the government at all levels with emphasis on maternal and child nutrition.