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Nutritious food is very important, especially the first 1000 days of a child, starting from conception. Experts insist that investments in the basic, low cost, proven solutions such as breastfeeding, iron and Vitamin A supplementation can save children’s lives, reports Sade Oguntola.
For most people, “hunger” is a figure of speech for a list of wants rather than needs. People hunger for more of many things— more time, more money, more of what their friend has. Nevertheless, when it is used with reference to food, it is just to indicate the feeling of wanting to eat.
Even when people declare, “I am starving” after staying without a meal for more than six hours, it cannot be compared to the feeling a child has after a prolonged deprivation of food. Certainly, it is better imagined than felt.
Without any doubt, a child who is hungry would feel empty and sad. The worst scenario is the fact that hunger can stunt growth, affect brain development, spur behavioural problems and increase the likelihood of falling sick.
Food insecurity has been associated with emotional and psychological stress among children. It could exert a negative effect on general health and contribute to a heightened risk of chronic diseases. While abnormal body weight may also increase vulnerability to a range of conditions such as asthma, experts have said that adequate feeding that ensures good health starts in the womb.
Good nutrition during the critical 1,000-day window from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday is crucial to developing a child’s cognitive capacity and physical growth. Ensuring a child receives adequate nutrition during this window can yield dividends for a lifetime, as a well-nourished child will perform better in school, more effectively fight off disease and even earn more as an adult.
Millions of children worldwide struggle against hunger, and Nigeria is no exception. There is growing concern that adequate nutrition is crucial to human capital formation and economic development because it prevents losses in productivity resulting from ill-health, deficits in schooling due to poor academic performance, and increased healthcare costs.
Although the effects of hunger have both short and long term implication, when the problem occurs in the first two years of life, its consequences are irreversible on the growth of the child. The sustained poor nutrition weakens immune systems, making children and adults more likely to die of diarrhoea or pneumonia. And it impairs the effectiveness of lifesaving medications, including those needed by people living with HIV and AIDS.
The devastating impact of undernutrition spans generations. Poorly nourished women are more likely to suffer difficult pregnancies and give birth to undernourished children themselves. The Save the Children’s 13th State of the World’s Mothers report indicated that out of 73 developing countries – which together account for 95 per cent of child deaths – only four scored “very good” on measures of young child nutrition. Niger was the worst place in the world, replacing Afghanistan for the first time in two years. And Norway was the best.
The ranking which compared 165 countries around the globe, looked at factors such as mother’s health, education and economic status, as well as critical child indicators such as health and nutrition, places Nigeria as 80th –the worst placed-out of 80 countries in the Less Developed countries category. Of the 10 countries at the bottom of Save the Children’s unique annual index, seven are in the midst of a food crisis. Niger, in bottom place, is currently in the grip of a worsening hunger situation, threatening the lives of a million children. Four of the bottom 10 countries have seen an increase in stunting over the past two decades - where children’s mental and physical growth is permanently blighted by malnutrition.
Dr David Olayemi, the Senior Programme Adviser, Government and Advocacy of “Save the Children’’, a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), who stated that child malnutrition is widespread, declared that 30 countries in the developing world have stunting rates of 40 per cent or more.
According to him, malnutrition is the underlying cause of more than 2.6 million child deaths every year, adding that 171 million children – 27 per cent of all children in the world – are stunted, meaning their minds and bodies don’t develop properly.
In developing countries, breastfed children are at least six times more likely to survive the early months than those that are not. Breastfeeding could save 1 million children’s lives each year. If all children in the developing world received adequate complementary feeding with breastfeeding, stunting rates at 12 months could be reduced by 20 per cent.
But investments in the basic, low cost, proven solutions can save children’s lives. According to him, breastfeeding is the single most effective nutrition intervention for saving lives. Breastfed children are at least six times more likely to survive in the early months of life than non-breastfed children. This followed by a timely and appropriate comple-mentary feeding is the best way to prevent a lifetime of lost potential due to stunting.
Iron supplements strengthen children’s resistance to disease, lower women’s risk of dying at childbirth and may help prevent premature births and low birth weight.
Vitamin A helps prevent blindness and lowers a child’s risk of death from common diseases. Zinc and good hygiene can save a child from dying of diarrhoea, the second leading cause of child death. These solutions are not expensive, and it is a tragedy that millions of mothers and children do not get them.
Professor Tola Atinmo, President, Federation of African Nutrition Society, speaking at an infant nutrition workshop in Ibadan stated that “a woman must be ready to provide breast milk, which is the best food for the baby for the first six months of life and after then complementary feeding must begin. This is an adult food prepared very soft.”
According to him, “Babies that are born small for their age have a higher risk of developing obesity, of becoming diabetic, of developing cancer and other non-communicable diseases and that is why all babies must have that very healthy start. Of course, such a good foundation, aside setting them on the right track to a healthy lifestyle, also assures that less money would be spent on managing diseases or on hospital bills.”
Certainly, breast milk might be the “miracle cure” for childhood malnutrition, thus explaining why emphasis must be on ensuring mothers know how best to feed babies in order to ensure that a healthy lifestyle.
Medical science has found that wasting and vitamin A deficiency, all indicative of nutritional status, increase substantially the risk of dying from childhood diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles and HIV/AIDS. In fact, children who are malnourished in the first two years of life can lose 11centimetres of potential height and grow up as adults with lower intellectual ability and economic productivity.
Certainly, children need not die from hunger. Increased invest in health workers – especially those serving on the front lines – to reach the most vulnerable mothers and children; education of girl-child; increase government support for proven solutions to fight malnutrition and save lives; increase private sector partnerships to improve nutrition for mothers and children as well as improved laws, policies and actions that support families and encourage breastfeeding are required, in ensuring brilliant and healthy children.Share