Malnutrition remains a global public health concern, however, in Nigeria, many children are malnourished not because there is not enough to eat around the house, but due to ignorance.
While nutrition, maternal, child and infant mortality rates have improved steadily over the years, the figures remain unacceptably high in Nigeria which ranks among the 20 nations that contribute to over 80 percent of child deaths in the world.
Over one million Nigerian children under five die annually from malnutrition and vaccine preventable diseases, even as the 2013 NDHS, rates Nigeria with a stunting rate of 37 percent, wasting, 18 percent, underweight 29 percent and exclusive breastfeeding 17 percent.
Though an improvement from the NDHS 2003 and 2008 respectively, experts say the situation is still life threatening and undermining child development and survival.
Immediate past National President, Nutrition Society of Nigeria, NSN, Dr, Ignatius Onimawo, said malnutrition which accounts for over 53 per cent of under-five deaths in Nigeria could be prevented through appropriate complementary feeding practice within 1000 days of a child’s life. Unfortunately, complementary feeding is yet to be understood by most Nigerian mothers and currently fuelling malnutrition.
Onimawo, at a Complementary Feeding Workshop held by the Nestle Nutrition Institute Africa, in collaboration with the NSN in Lagos, blamed high malnutrition in Nigerian children on inappropriate complementary feeding by mothers. “The best way to fight malnutrition and secure a healthy generation is by imbibing complementary feeding practice during the first 1,000 days of life. This stage in a child`s life is critical because this is when a child is vulnerable to infections and even death.”
He described complementary feeding as a practice adopted when breast milk alone is insufficient to increase nutrient composition for the growth and development of a child.
“Children who suffer malnutrition have very low immunity, making them more prone to treatable illnesses and infections like colds, diarrhoea, malaria etc. Such children are also dull, unhappy and have little interest in their surroundings.
“The development of their brain is affected since the first five years are very crucial in human development. As a result, malnutrition has diverse effects on his/her capabilities more especially in education. But with adequate nutrition, a child’s growth, development and health is guaranteed and the future of the nation is secured,” he said.
The importance of breastfeeding during complementary feeding, reflects in a malnourished girl child because it affects the development of the pelvis. Such girls, when they become women cannot give birth naturally, except through Caesarean Section.
Onimawo noted that for the first six months of life, breastfeeding provides the best nutrition, but after six months baby needs more nutrients.
“We can make complimentary foods from our locally available foods in such a way that they will be adequate in nutrients. Complimentary foods must be filled with key vitamins, minerals, the right energy and other essential nutrients to bridge the gap between what is provided by breast milk and nutrients needed by your growing baby,” he stated. He recommended examples like pap mixed with soya beans, groundnut, crayfish that is well prepared, as essential in meeting a child’s requirements.
Chief Nutrition Officer, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Mrs Oluwatoyin Adams, said malnutrition occurs through inadequate intake of micro-nutrients. She decried the poor implementation of nutrition policies and urged government at all levels to place high priority on nutrition as a form of preventive medicine.
In her remark, Professor Ngozi Nnam, National President, NSN, who was represented by Dr Bartholomew Brai, called for increased awareness on complementary feeding for growth and development of a child.
Coordinator, Nestle Nutrition Institute Africa, Nigeria and Anglophone Countries, Central and West Africa, Mrs Chioma Emma Nwachukwu, said the Institute was established to address nutrition and health challenges in Africa to help people to live longer and healthier lives.