Food is a universal language. It knows no barrier. Living things need food for sustenance. Human beings, however, have taken it up a notch. Today, humans eat not just for sustenance, but also recreation, sports and even hobby.
Food is important to the body. The body needs it to grow, function and repair itself. Food provides the body with nutrients. To know the right nutrients for the body, we must first understand nutrition.
Nutrition is the study of nutrients in food, how the body uses them and the relationship between diet, health, and disease. Nutrients are divided into two types, macronutrients and Micronutrients. Macronutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates and fats are nutrients needed by the body in large quantities, while micronutrients such as iron, sodium, potassium etc. are nutrients that the body needs in small quantity.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) argues that nutrition is a critical part of health and development, with better nutrition related to improved infant, child and maternal health, stronger immune systems, safer pregnancy and childbirth, lower risk of non-communicable diseases (such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease) and longevity.
In Nigeria, there is a huge nutrition gap. There is a disconnect between available food and proper combination, and even preparation, for the best nutrition. The gap is widening every day.
To move forward, the country must explore how to close the gap and connect the dots. The recent Protein Challenge webinar themed: “The UN Decade of Action on Nutrition – Connecting the Dots for Nigeria” provided plenty of clarity on the issue.
The session brought together nutrition and SDG experts to discuss the adverse effects of malnutrition, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the pivotal role nutrition has to play in achieving these goals. For Nigeria to improve its nutrition status, here are three ways that it can connect the dots:
#1: Food Security: Food security, as defined by the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security, means that all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.
Essentially, food security refers to the availability of food and one’s access to it. Nigeria has a food security problem. The food security challenge is compounding the nation’s nutrition crisis. Farmers continually have to contend with security challenges on the farms, logistic bottlenecks in the supply chain and huge wastage due to unavailability of proper storage for produce.
Besides, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown measures have disrupted production, impacted incomes and reduced access to food.
The government must assert itself. It must improve access to farmlands via improved security nationwide, partner with interested private sector organisations to establish urgently storage facilities and work to improve the agriculture value chain.
#2: Increase Nation’s Budget on Health and Nutrition: Healthy citizens make a healthy nation. An important way to ensure that the citizens are healthy is through the dedication of appropriate portions of the budget to the health sector. It is only common sense.
The government needs to urgently review budgetary allocations to health and nutrition. Sadly, over the last couple of years, the health budget has seen a sharp decline from N71.11 billion naira in 2018 to N46 billion in 2020. In a country where the population is increasing rapidly, a critical look into the health budget is imperative if we are to meet up with the 2030 timeline of achieving ‘zero hunger’.
The health budget allocation must increase, with particular emphasis on the nutrition budget line item.
#3: Nutrition Education: Meal planning is an essential ingredient for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Of course, it is impossible to plan meals without good nutrition education.
The reason is obvious; a lot of people just eat without considering the nutrition needed by the body. Educating people across all social classes is needed so they can know the combination of nutritious foods to have on their plates. For instance, people need to know that contrary to popular belief, beans is not the only source of affordable protein as other plant-based foods are available and packed with protein.
Foods such as soybeans, egusi, vegetables and groundnuts are great examples of plant-based protein-rich food sources. Crayfish, snails and fish are equally sources of protein that are easily accessible and affordable to have on healthy plates.
Nutrition is essential for good health. Nigeria must work to bridge the nutrition gap. To start with, three things must be done: work to achieve food security, increase health budget and nutrition education. These are the right steps to connecting the dots.