More than 2 billion people in the world are suffering from malnutrition. This is the result of diets lacking essential micronutrients such as vitamins, iron and zinc, which are vital for the body to function, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). We need to understand what nutrition is, and we need to make them understand that without healthy people, we have a problem. Nutritious foods are an input into a healthy society. Research has shown that if you have a child that is stunted, the mental development of that child is below average. If you have somebody thinking for the whole country that is mentally less developed, how really can we develop? We need to educate ourselves to link nutrition to development and prioritize nutrition.
The nutritional situation is worrying in Africa, says Busi Maziya-Dixon, a Senior Food and Nutrition Scientist at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria. Here research indicates all forms of malnutrition, including stunting, wasting, and obesity, is growing. Maziya-Dixon has widely researched nutrition on the continent.
“Malnutrition affects both the rich and the poor,” Maziya-Dixon says. “It has become a problem because in Africa, actually, we see three different types of malnutrition, which at times we do not consider malnutrition.”
Maziya-Dixon said malnutrition is evident in cases where people do not get enough to eat, and that is the one a lot of people talk about a lot. Then where the people do not have enough of these micronutrients and being overweight.
In terms of ‘hidden’ hunger, it’s the lack of vitamin A, Iron and Zinc, which are the three major micronutrients of public health importance.
Then, of course, bringing in iodine which has been tackled by fortifying salt in many countries. This has proven to be an intervention which has seen most of the countries reduce their iodine deficiency.
Vitamin A is being tackled by supplementation, where you give a capsule to a child who is under five. It is also addressed by breeding or developing, crop varieties which have higher amounts of provitamin A carotene and iron and zinc.
Malnutrition cannot only be addressed by food. Of course, we also promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of every child of every child. The critical period we are now talking about in terms of nutrition is the first 1000 days (of life). Which means it is from the time a woman falls pregnant because malnutrition can start during pregnancy.
A healthy diet is one which has a variety of food which means you eat different things in the correct amounts, and you do not overeat one component. For example, you do not overeat staple foods like ugali or lepalishi or fofo – you just get the correct amount. You do not consume a lot of fat or a lot of sugary things or food that is high in salt content.
For example, somebody can sit down and say I am hungry, and they can take a big bowl of ugali or fufu or pounded yam and meat. That big bowl will fill the stomach. Still, in terms of the nutrients, you need to nourish your body, you will find that it is nutritionally inferior.
You need to eat nutrient-dense food, and you need to eat a variety of foods in the correct amount. Which means food systems should be able to produce those varieties of foods so that they are available to the community. We say nutrient-dense because it will contain a little bit of protein, a little bit of carbohydrate, a little bit of this vitamin and that vitamin.