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Impact Of Nutrition On Nations Produtivity And Healthy Growth
Nigeria has progressed significantly in socio-economic terms unlike its previous years. The problem of malnutrition still affects some of its citizens. It has long been hampered by political instability, corruption, inadequate infrastructure and poor macroeconomic management. This led it to excessive dependence on the capital-intensive oil sector, which provides 20% of GDP, 95% of foreign exchange income and about 65% of budget income. But certain government and economic reforms have brought many improvements ranging from an estimated increase in its GDP per capita from $430 in 2003 to $1,000 in 2005. A decrease in the unemployment rate from 3.2% in 1997 to 2.9% in 2005. microfinance banking, and the liquidation and consolidation of banks by the CBN, have resulted in Nigerian banks being rated as one of the best in Africa. The highlight of the whole thing was the historic debt write-off of $30 billion from $37 billion owned by Nigeria to the Paris Club in March 2006. Despite all these recent developments, 70% of Nigerians are still under the alienating grip of malnutrition and 60% in 2000 below the poverty line. I have categorized the Nigerian nutrition problem for clarification into undernutrition, overnutrition and micronutrition. The purpose of this article is to review the government’s efforts and suggest ways to lift the country out of the alienating grip of poverty that threatens the country’s future.
Although the three nutritional problems sum up the problem of malnutrition in the country, it would be good to consider the whole problem one by one. Malnutrition is the biggest nutritional problem affecting mostly people in rural areas and some of those who have gone to the city in search of greener pastures. Malnutrition is characterized by an inadequate intake of macronutrients (namely: calories and protein). According to President Obasanjo, “almost half of children aged 7+-13 in Nigeria are underweight”. Many children and adults go to bed hungry, some eat one meal a day and most of those meals are carbohydrates. This leads to malnutrition and protein deficiency. It is the main cause of kwashiorkor which is more unique to people living in the tropical African region. For adults, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.79 g per kg (0.36 g per 1b) of body weight each day. For children and infants, this RDA is doubled or tripled, due to their rapid growth. This is the main cause of stunted growth and deformities in growing children. One fifth of Nigerian children die before the age of five, primarily because millions of Nigerians also live on less than a dollar a day, others live by begging for food on the streets.
Overeating is mainly a problem of adults and rare adolescents, especially urban residents. It is a rapidly escalating public nutrition problem, largely reflecting a change in dietary patterns and more sedentary lifestyles. The situation in Nigeria where the economy favors a certain group over others, the poor get poorer while the rich get richer, has led to a higher percentage of overnutrition – the Nigerian disease of the great man. This nutritional problem is now alarmingly increasing diet-related chronic diseases such as type II diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and several diet-related cancers. These chronic diseases have caused human suffering, social distress, loss of productivity and economic burden on health and other economic sectors. The increase in the land-obsessed population affects the country’s labor force and the country’s productivity both now and in the near future.
Last but not least is micronutrient deficiency. It is an inadequate intake of key vitamins and minerals. This is experienced by both the poor and the rich, rural and urban residents. It is hunger hidden under the guise of sufficiency in Nigerian society. Lack of vitamins and minerals leads to irreversible damage to the child’s physical and mental development. This is why this type of malnutrition is aimed at pregnant women and children. According to some empirical conclusions, it was observed that even a moderate lack of iodine during fetal development and infants lowers the level of intelligence by 10-15 points. Folic acid deficiency is associated with serious birth defects. Inadequate iron affects children’s growth and ability to learn and reduces their ability to concentrate, fully participate in school and social interaction and development; it also contributes to material mortality and reduced labor productivity. It has been recorded that 40% of children under the age of 5 suffer from vitamin A deficiency.
Nigeria’s three main nutritional problems pose a major challenge to the country’s ailing economy, which has led to a drop in imports of expensive protein-rich foods, oils and fodder. Many parents are now abandoning the task of breastfeeding and all these and many others contribute to the risk of malnutrition in Nigeria, more so now that she is undergoing a rapid socioeconomic revolution.
GOVERNMENT ACTION BEFORE DEMOCRACY
The Nigerian economy was dominated by agriculture and trade, which flourished during colonial rule in the 19th century. In the 1960s and 1970s, the oil industry developed and fueled a significant increase in export earnings and enabled massive investment in industry, agriculture, infrastructure and the social sciences.
A sharp drop in oil prices, economic mismanagement and continued military rule characterized Nigeria in the 1980s. In 1983, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) began assisting the Nigerian federal and state ministries of health in the development and implementation of family planning and child survival programs. In 1992, an HIV/AIDS prevention and control program was added to existing health activities, USAID committed $135 million to bilateral aid programs for the period 1986–1996, as Nigeria undertook an initially successful structural adjustment program, but it later gave up. Plans to allocate $150 million in aid from 1993 to 2003 were interrupted by tensions in US-Nigerian relations over human rights abuses, the failed transition to democracy and the Nigerian government’s lack of cooperation on counter-narcotics issues. By the mid-1990s, these problems resulted in a narrowing of USAID activities that could benefit the military government. Existing health programs were redesigned to focus on working through Nigerian NGOs and community groups.
In 1987, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), under the chief researcher dr. Kenton Dashiell, launched an ambiguous effort in Nigeria to combat widespread malnutrition. They encouraged the use of nutritious, economical soy in everyday food. They further said that soybeans are about 40% higher in protein than any common plant or animal food source found in Africa. With the addition of corn, rice and other grains in soybeans, the obtained protein meets the standard of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Soy also contains about 20% oil, which is 85% unsaturated and cholesterol-free. Although many good programs to alleviate malnutrition were started during this period, there were many other socio-economic obstacles that hindered the popularity and proper functioning of these programs until the democratic period. Economic instability in this period contributed to a large extent of malnutrition due to autocratic rule. There has been little or no detailed effort to combat malnutrition. The period can be characterized as an egoistic period – when the state’s private interest dominated at the expense of the suffering masses.
The most interesting part of this period is that it is characterized by promises and hope. The promise that is the main working tool of this period and the hope that will ever be present to keep the promise. In 2002, President Obasanjo, in a meeting with the President of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences, pledged to support better coordination of nutrition activities and programs in Nigeria, he went on to say, “the high prevalence of malnutrition is totally unacceptable to this government and he assured the President of IUNS that he will do everything possible to ensure that resources are available to improve household food security, greater access to health services and better maternal care capacity, including support for breastfeeding promotion.
On September 27, 2005, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Chief of Staff lunched the Nasarawa State Schools Feeding Program at Laminga Primary School. The program is fully funded and administered by Nasarawa State, making it a unique model in Africa today. The epoch-making event is the fulfillment of one of the pledges to curb malnutrition, especially among children of whom he noted that many between the ages of 7-13 are underweight. He further promises to reach around 27 million children in the next 10 years.
Other international bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) which started in 1992, but became more entrenched during the democratic regime. All of them and many others are fighting hard to eradicate poverty and malnutrition.
There are many challenges that exist in some nutrition improvement programs. There is a need for the government to put some nutrition research into national policy. They should be able to reach the corners of the earth. They should be able to coordinate all sectors of agencies to fight malnutrition. More effective intervention is much needed.
Nutrition is now an intervention issue, a stake and an unavoidable duty of every nation. Although it is difficult to bring a solution to everyone’s door, but the government should try as much as possible to reach people through mobile agencies and mass media. A lot of effective research should be conducted in the country which will be updated with information such as; average national investment in nutrition per capital, current statuses of nutritional deficiencies and information on nutrition initiatives, as well as national policy frameworks and interagency coordination mechanisms. There is a need to promote nutrition organizations, especially non-governmental organizations. The government should try to improve the socio-economic life of the people. Agriculture in the country should be encouraged and improved. The nutritional value of each product, both imported and non-imported, should be checked. The government should promote a global nutrition agenda, which would increase the visibility of nutrition at the national level and beyond.
If these solutions suggested above are taken into account, Nigeria would be greatly improved as a giant of Africa and a future giant of the world economy thereby clearing the future economic storm Nigeria is facing due to some of its citizens suffering from nutritional problems.
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