The three most basic needs man requires for his survival are food, shelter and clothing. Food is an integral part of the existential requirements for the continuity of life.
Food is so important to humanity that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has labelled hunger (a feeling of discomfort or weakness caused by lack of food) as the single gravest threat to the world’s public health.
On the other hand, a health condition whereby individual eats a diet in which nutrients are not enough or too much such that it causes health problems is referred to as malnutrition. Malnutrition is often used to specifically refer to under nutrition where an individual is not getting enough calories, proteins, or micronutrients. It is equally an undesirable condition.
Malnutrition can arise in three forms. One, obesity or over nourishment, which is defined as dietary energy intake which exceeds requirements for maintenance of a healthy bodyweight.
Two, micronutrient deficiencies, which is defined as a lack of essential vitamins and minerals required in small amounts by the body for proper growth and development.
It can also manifest as hunger and undernourishment, which is defined as dietary energy intakes below the minimum levels necessary to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
In Nigeria, extreme undernourishment, known as starvation, is common in the nation and it may have symptoms that include: a short height (stunted growth), thin body, very poor energy levels, and swollen legs and abdomen. The primary causes of this is the large population, the rate of poverty in the country and lack of access to needed food.
Reports WHO indicates that Nigeria has about 56.9 million people now living with this ailment. UNICEF in a separate report estimates that over 6.5 million children suffer from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).
In addition, about 82 million people – roughly half Nigeria’s population – live in extreme poverty, under $1.25 a day, according to the World Data Lab’s Poverty Clock. Put in another context, if poor Nigerians were a country it would be more populous than Germany.
The statistics is dire. Malnutrition is prevalent in the nation. There are too many people with little or nothing to feed on. It is no surprise therefore that malnutrition has lingered. In the light of Nigeria’s rapidly growing population, coupled with rising food prices and poverty, something needs to be done to mitigate the lingering problem.
The obvious first step is to address family planning. It has to be adequately implemented across the country. It has to start with sensitisation campaigns in rural communities, educating nursing mothers on proper child spacing, and continuous free basic education in the local government areas.
Secondly, the government must take another look at its policies. It must seek to implement policies to expand the economy, reduce unemployment, empower the citizens and boost agricultural production. This is the way to go, if the goal is to reduce malnutrition and curb starvation in the country.
Of course, there needs to be proper orientation on the advantages of eating right. Citizens must understand that a healthier, more balanced diet is the surest way to alleviating malnutrition. Eating “fortified” foods that contain extra nutrients is key to a healthy lifestyle.
While malnutrition has been an issue in the lives of Nigerians for decades, it can be eliminated with the right approach, an integrated approach. Together, we can build a future free of hunger and malnutrition. Malnutrition will be defeated.