Friday, 16 March 2018

UNICEF Advocates for Adequate Nutrition, Exclusive Breastfeeding for Malnutrition in Yoruba Land

Rebecca Ejifoma

Following the sordid rate of 1.5million children suffering from stunting in Southwest Nigeria, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called for genuine exclusive breastfeeding for babies from age zero to six months to knock off malnutrition, stunting and wasting among children between ages zero and five.

This was disclosed at a two-day Media Dialogue on Child Nutrition on the theme, ‘Overcoming Stunting in South-west Nigeria' holding today February 27 to 28 organised by the Ogun Ministry of Information and Strategy in collaboration with UNICEF on Tuesday in Ibadan, Oyo state.

She said malnutrition had resulted in stunting among children in Southwest and in Nigeria. With a total of over 1.5million (19.4per cent) of children in S'West are stunted, South south and Southeast are better than Southwest.

According to Nutrition Specialist UNICEF, Akure Office, Ada Ezeogu, to reduce the 1.5m children suffering from malnutrition in the whole of Southwest, there should be extension of maternity leave for mothers to be able to do exclusive breastfeeding for their babies in the first six months of their lives. “Of all the states in Southwest, only Lagos has achieved the six months maternity leave. Others should do same”.

Urging all Southwestern States – Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti – to take exclusive breastfeeding strict, she described breastmilk as baby’s meal containing over 80 per cent water. “Hence, avoid giving the child water in the first six months of its life.”

To proffering solutions on best nutrition practice against malnutrition in children, the nutrition specialist advised mothers to adhere to providing adequate nutrition for children of under-five.

“Starting from 6 months, babies need other foods in addition to breast milk. It is recommended to continue breastfeeding with complementary foods for up to two years and beyond. Breast milk continues to be the most important part of the baby’s diet.

Ezeogu, therefore, listed staple foods, seed and legumes, animal protein, fruits and vegetables as the classes of food that is balm for nutritious meals, a contributing factor against malnutrition and stunting.

Examples of staple food include: yam, plantain, maize, potato, cocoyam and cassava. Seed and legume are: beans, groundnut, soya beans, nuts, egusi. Animal proteins are: egg, milk, fish, meat and crayfish while fruits and vegetables are the oranges, watermelons, bananas among others.

“Every time you prepare meal for these children after six months of exclusive, have those classes of foods in your mind for the babies. Because they are not adults and do not have big stomachs, their meals must be in smaller quantity but more often than the three square meals adults take,” she described.

As the child grows, she added, its food becomes thicker like the family food. It shouldn’t be watery like the breastmilk. When giving complementary foods, think: Frequency, Amount, Thickness, Variety, Active/responsive feeding, and hygiene.

“Every time you prepare meal for these children after six months of exclusive, have those classes of foods in your mind. Because they are not adults and do not have big stomachs, their meals must be in smaller quantity but more often than the three square meals adults take,” she said.

Accordingly, she said that the over 17million figure represents 43.6 per cent of an estimated 40 million Nigerian children under-five years, adding that 19.4 per cent children in the South-west are stunted resulting from malnourishment.

“Poor health and household poverty are some of the causes of malnutrition. Children from such homes are at risk of poor educational outcomes and lower IQ. Malnutrition, also, causes stunting which causes wasting.”

Reacting to this, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy Ogun State, Mr. Adebayo Adeneye, expressed that proper nutrition was apt for growth. “Unintentionally, this determines the outcome of our life expectancy and the development of the society".

Describing nutrition as a complex issue that requires the participation and involvement of stake holders at all levels especially now that Nigeria is a critical stage of malnutrition, he decried that it was quite alarming to note that a large percentage of the youth children in Nigeria is micro-nutrient deficient while some even suffer from over-nourishment otherwise call obesity.

He added further that Nigerians nutrition was yet to increase for the past ten years and those affected most were vulnerable in the society which are under-five. “All hands must be on deck to combat stunting and malnutrition in children under-five.”