Child malnutrition as a catalyst to insecurity
By Carl Umegboro
Without doubt, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations is a global policy document that is human rights driven. ‘No Poverty’ and ‘Zero hunger’ are the first and second respectively in the (17) seventeen goals followed by ‘Good health and well-being’ as the third. Poverty and hunger apart from being inseparable are also the chief enemies of man. In fact, any society with a high poverty ratio will equally have the same result on famished population. Nigeria is estimated at about 200 million people. Unfortunately, the figure represents everybody that can breathe. The quality of the population is never taken into account. Incidentally, the quality affects the gross domestic products (GDP). A healthy population will boost economic growth and vice versa. And it begins with child well-being. The nutrients in a child have serious roles in the child’s development and growth including the brain.
Borrowing a distinctive illustration by a Nutrition Officer at the UNICEF Country Office, Nkiruka Enwelum on the importance of nutrition to the human body; compare the body to a house. A standard house starts with a plan and blueprint. A builder interprets the building plan, sets out a blueprint and ideally chooses building materials prudently. In a nutshell, a house begins from plan to design, and progresses to construction, finishing and finally, the sanitary maintenance. Of course, substitutions may occur if some materials are unavailable, and buildings that would last, and remain in good condition, need compliance to details alongside regular maintenance. Same applies to the human body.
Anatomically, the ‘plan’ for the body is in the DNA. All the ‘building materials’ come from food and water. The building materials are called nutrients, and when the body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs, substitution occurs which leads to negative consequences. Thus, the body must get the right nutrients at every stage of life. And where they are not supplied, the deficiency creates room for some dangerous consequences that may affect proper growth and reasoning of a child. Of course, the child may eventually develop to an adult if survived but at risk of negativities. Accolades to Enwelum for simplifying the discourse.
According to the National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) in 2018, Nigeria ranks the number one in Africa and number two in the globe in terms of the number of children that are malnourished pegged at 35 million children (below 5years), 14 million stunted, 3 million wasted, 24 million Anaemic, and the average annual rate of reduction for stunting is only 0.4 percent points per year. Also, 25 million people are hungry while 14.5 million people suffer from acute food insecurity. The NDHS update will soon be released.
However, on Children’s Day – 27th May, 2022, Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo launched a data on the ‘Situation Analysis of Children in Nigeria’ which reveals that approximately 54 percent of children in the country are multidimensionally poor by facing at least three deprivations across seven dimensions of child rights including nutrition, healthcare, education, water, sanitation, adequate housing and information. The report was prepared by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning in collaboration with UNICEF.
Likewise, from statistics, about 45 percent of child deaths is from poor nutrition, and poor nutrition in the 1000 days from conception of a child to 2 years of age commonly results to permanent damage which includes impaired brain development and lower IQ (intelligent quotient), premature deaths, low birth weight, lost productivity and increased healthcare costs, weakened immune system leading to increased risk of infectious diseases and also risk of diabetes, cancer, stroke, hypertension and other noncommunicable diseases. No serious-minded society jokes with child nutrition and education, otherwise, delinquents will dominate the space.
Looking at the reports, it isn’t unexpected why the population has more people on the other side than the positively productive class. For example, in the northern part of the country recently, a female student in Sokoto, Deborah Samuel was inhumanly mob-beaten, stoned to death and set ablaze by male adults that have sisters, daughters in their families over alleged religious blasphemy. Similarly, in the south, Okechukwu Okoye, a lawmaker in Anambra was gruesomely murdered and beheaded alongside his aide. In the same Anambra, a pregnant woman, Mrs. Harirat Jubril alongside her three innocent kids were recently gunned down; all in the name of hostility. And many others.
A question is; why is it always the poor class that fight over ‘religious blasphemy’ or engage in violence? The answer; most times, brains of people that grew under miserable conditions are affected to become defective. So, the barbaric behaviours are most likely aftereffects of malnutrition, poor education that advanced to taking illicit drugs thereby hardened victims to become extremely inhuman, aggressive and hostile. A well-developed brain with sound education will always think positive, humane and productive, and not reason upside down, let alone constitute threats to the society. This is where child nutrition and education play out.
The challenge now is the capacity to eradicate poverty which is the root cause of malnutrition amid meagre resources. However, wrong diets can also cause malnutrition resulting in obesity. Thus, while the fight against poverty sustains, education on nutrition should be placed on the front burner. Government should promote Nutrition and Dietetics as a general course in the tertiary institutions and possibly in secondary schools as a subject. Commendably, through foreign grants, UNICEF spearheads interventions on severe acute malnutrition for infants with Ready-To-Use-Therapeutic Food (RUTF).
Furthermore, authorities should invest more in agriculture by supporting farmers for enhanced capacity for produce that have nutritional values like beans, sweet potatoes, fruits and vegetables at low-cost prices. For example, sweet potatoes, unknown to many, is a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is good for the heart and kidney, promotes gut health, contains cancer-fighting properties, supports healthy vision, immune and reproductive system and also enhances brain function. According to health experts, just one sweet potato gives 400% of the Vitamin A needed each day.
In fact, our politicians need sweet potatoes for brain function. This is a serious matter. For instance, politicians comfortably paid 100million and N40million respectively for a nomination form amid malnourished, starving and out-of-school children in their wards and constituencies. Fighting malnutrition beginning from children is imperative to national economic growth and demands intensive inputs. The oversights will always result in dangerous consequences against the entire society.
Umegboro, ACIArb, a public affairs analyst and social advocate writes via email@example.com