New Telegraph

X-raying Malnutrition Prevalence in Nigeria

It’s needless to pretend that all is well with the teeming Nigerians as regards dietary knowing full well the challenging situation is so glaring. Malnutrition is fully here with us and remains a monster that needs to be combated fiercely without any fear any favour. It can be defined as a physical weakness caused by not eating enough food of the right kind. It can also be described as a situation involving the state at which the human body lacks the required food components known as ‘balanced diet’. Malnutrition, which is a serious condition that occurs when a person’s diet doesn’t contain the right amount of nutrients, simply means poor nutrition, and can be referred to as ‘Under-nutrition’ when the carrier does not possess enough nutrients or ‘Over-nutrition’ when the sufferer has more nutrients than he/she requires.

Malnutrition is caused by having an inadequate diet or a problem absorbing nutrients from food. There are several reasons either of these conditions might occur to include having reduced mobility, a long-term health condition such as a chronic disease, or a low income. Malnutrition could be in form of kwashiorkor, anaemia, obesity,xerophthalmia, pellagra, among others, as the case may be. Other medical conditions that can lead to malnutrition include: A condition that results to lack of appetite such as cancer, liver disease, persistent pain or nausea, as well as a mental health condition including depression, dementia, or schizophrenia, which may affect one’s ability to look after him/herself.

Others are: a condition that disrupts one’s body ability to digest food particles or absorb nutrients such as dyspepsia or ulcerative colitis, coupled with a condition that makes swallowing difficult or painful such as dysphagia as well as persistent vomiting or diarrhoea and eating disorder including anorexia nervosa. It is worth noting that, some kinds of medication can increase one’s risk of developing malnutrition. Medical experts are of the opinion that over two hundred and fifty (250) types of medicine are known to disrupt the body’s ability to absorb as well as breakdown nutrients. One may also be at risk of becoming malnourished if his/ her body has an increased demand for energy – for example, if it’s trying to heal itself after undergoing a major surgery or having sustained a serious injury such as a burn, or if the body is experiencing involuntary movements like tremor. Physical factors can also contribute to malnutrition. For instance; if one’s teeth are in a poor state, eating could be difficult or painful.

One might also lose his appetite as a result of losing his sense of smell and taste. More so, one may be passing through a physical disability or other impairment that makes it difficult for him/her to cook or shop for food. Social factors that can contribute to malnutrition include: living alone and being socially isolated, having limited knowledge about nutrition or cooking, and alcohol/ drug dependency. The most common symptom of under-nutrition is unintentional weight-loss. Other signs may include: weak muscles, low mood, feeling tired all the time and an increased chances of contracting various illnesses or infections. On the other hand, the main sign of over-nutrition is being overweight or obese.

However, persons living with under-nutrition can also be overweight if they feed on a diet high in energy (calories) but low in other nutrient.Signs of malnutrition in children can include failure to grow at the expected rate coupled with behavioural changes such as appearing unusually irritable, sluggish and/or anxious. In the hospital or clinic, one can be diagnosed to be malnourished or not, by calculating his/her Body Mass Index (BMI). Someone with a BMI that falls within 18.5 to 24.9 is considered healthy. Thus, one with BMI either less than or greater than the above stipulated range is considered malnourished. It is worthy to note that malnutrition is a severe and deadly medical condition. Significantly, accordingly to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), statistics show that about 10.9 million children under the age of five die in developing countries like Nigeria each year; survey indicates that malnutrition and other hunger-related diseases cause sixty percent (60%) of the said deaths. In addition, the cost of under-nutrition to national economic development in any of the affected countries is estimated at 20-30 billion US-dollars per annum.

Based on what made someone to become malnourished and how severe the condition is, treatment may be carried out at home or in the hospital. Dietary changes are the main treatment for malnutrition; if one is undernourished, he might need to increase the nutritional content of his/her foods or diet, with or without taking nutritional supplements. If the person in question is unable to eat enough to meet his/her nutritional needs, he/she might need a feeding tube to provide nutrients directly into the digestive system or a drip to provide nutrients and fluids directly into the vein. The best way to prevent malnutrition is to eat a healthy balanced diet. Indeed, a healthy balanced diet is vital for maintaining good health and fitness. To stay healthy, one needs to eat a variety of foods from the four main food groups, namely: plenty of fruit and vegetables; plenty of bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods; some milk and dairy foods; and,some meat, fish, eggs, beans, among other non-dairy sources of protein. Considering the aforementioned likely causes of malnutrition, analysts are of the view that the health anomaly could be fundamentally attributed to illiteracy, ignorance or poverty, as the case may be.

This implies that the ongoing crusade regarding the eradication of all forms of malnutrition in the contemporary Nigerian society requires the holistic effort of all and sundry including the governments, health experts, civil society, the media, non-governmental bodies as well as well-meaning individuals. The government at all levels ought to endeavour to establish primary health-care centres within the reach of the citizenry, especially the ordinary people. And, must ensure that each of the health centres enjoys the services of at least a qualified resident dietician. In the same vein, people should be conscientized to visit the health centres situated at their respective localities from time-to-time, in order to acquire the consequential or needed counselling on dietary. Furthermore, the civil society and NGOs that are concerned with health matters are expected to intensify awareness on the possible causes of malnutrition.

It is advisable for them to regularly embark on a door-to-door sensitization campaign and at all times endeavour to organize seminars cum workshops with a view to bringing the less-privileged individuals closer to health/dietary issues. This proposed measure can effectively and efficiently be actualized by involving the mass media. It is obvious that most people, particularly those residing at the rural areas, are yet to understand the actual meaningof ‘balanced diet’ owing to lack of education. This is where the informed minds or well-meaning Nigerians are meant to come in; they should let their relatives, friends, well-wishers, neighbours, and what have you, who are less-privileged information/ education wise, to acknowledge the fact that balanced diet can be obtained within their places of residence such as their home gardens. It is no longer news that most Nigerians are preoccupied with the notion that balanced diet comprises ‘expensive’ foods that can only be acquired by highincome earners; on this note, they should be meant to comprehend that they can produce essential foods at their houses without any tangible or reasonable capital.

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