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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Nutritional problems In Africa

Compiled by: Muoka Chibuzor


Africa has been the world’s second largest continent and a reservoir of the Human Black Race.

We are looking at the Impacts and results of inadequate nutritional fortification in the African Populace. Inadequate Nutritional Fortification in this context implies malnutrition which literally means a lack of adequate nourishment (food).

Professor M.A.Omololu a former director of the Food Science and Applied Nutrition Unit, University of Ibadan, stated –
“Malnutrition is one of the most common disease which face Africa and one that can be easily and quickly controlled by preventive measures.”In another article on nutrition education, he concludes “Children in Africa are dying in thousands due to Malnutrition.” 
Workers cannot give their best due to poor nutrition and industries suffer, national development plans cannot get off the ground.“With better nutrition, our countries could produce more than enough food to feed the population and sell the surplus to bring in the much needed foreign earnings.”

These quotations from an eminent scientist working in the field of nutrition in Nigeria emphasize the gravity of the problem of malnutrition among children and adult populations and its economic as well as medical importance.

It is realized that the present state of nutrition in several African countries is not good. Mostly as a result of economic breakdown, recessions, possible war out break etc.

Note: The joule/kilojoules (calorie) is a unit of energy. The Kilojoule is the measure of how much energy people get from consuming a food or drink. Energy in food and drinks is measured by the number of kilojoules it provides.

Report of surveys from different parts shows the following:
1. A low intake of Kilojoules, in most areas.
2. A low intake of protein in all areas.
3. A low intake of Specific Vitamins in Scattered Localities – Vitamin A in some areas; members of Vitamin B in others.
4. A low intake of some minerals such as iodine resulting in endemic goiter; Iron deficiency causing anemia in others.
Relief for starving children
The Effects of Malnutrition
In experiments carried out at the Food Science and Applied Nutrition Unit of Ibadan University. It has been shown that infants are adequately nourished by breast milk during the first 3 – 4 months of life.

The rate of growth and development of these infants are comparable with and in most cases, better than those of infants in Britain and America.
Under nutrition sets in with the introduction of Traditional Supplementary foods by the 5th or 6th month. These foods are gruels (or paps) made from maize, sorghum, millet and other cereals. They are mostly – Water = 92 – 95%, Low in protein = usually 0.5 – 1% and Poor in kilojoules = 125 – 150 kilojoules per 100ml. (compare breast milk, 300 kilojoules per 100ml).
Mother breastfeeding child.
In areas where breast feeding is stopped early, by 6 months. Marasmus is seen in these infants before the end of their first year of life. Marasmus is characterized by a shrunken appearance. Growth is retarded.

This inadequate intake of kilojoules goes on throughout life. School children go to school in the mornings without breakfast and have to learn on an empty stomach till noon. In adults, inadequate intake is the rule.
In the rural areas of Nigeria, average joule intake by an adult man is around 7560 kilojoules (expected: 10500 – 12600 kilojoules).

This intake is further reduced during the pre-harvest ‘hunger season’, the time between February and May, when food stores of the preceding year are now depleted due to bad storage and infestations.

Also this is the time when farmers have to work hard, clearing the ground and planting during the early rains. Falls in the joule intake 20 – 40% have been recorded during the ‘hunger season’.

The result is that farmers cannot work hard because of hunger, he thus reduces his hectarage and planting, resulting in a lower harvest. This vicious cycle of hunger season, poor planting, low yields, little food for storage, hunger season, has occurred in tropical Africa for a long time.

In urban areas, low joule intake results in laziness and inability to work hard, productivity is low, efficiency is bad and concentration poor. Thus factories find that they cannot meet their expected targets, the expected rate of growth of the country’s economy is not met despite large sums of money spent on new machines and industrialization.

The effect of low joule intake in women is more apparent in pregnancy and on their offspring. Pregnant women are expected to put on about 10 kilograms. The average gain in weight during pregnancy in tropical Africa is 5 kilograms; half the expected gain.

The average birth weight of the children born is 2.8kg as opposed to 3.2kg in developed countries. Naturally, a lot of children die. Between 30% and 50% of the children born die before they are 5 years old.

Presently, it has been realized that children who have suffered from malnutrition may not attain the full expression of their physical and intellectual development. This is a grave warning of the long term effect of malnutrition.

Nutritional problems in Africa

1. Vitamin A deficiency which causes blindness.

2. Vitamin D deficiency which causes Rickets, due to lack of exposure to Sunlight.
Rickets is a disease of the skeleton as a result of lack of calcium retention in the skeleton. The condition is mainly due vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is often called the ‘Sunshine Vitamin’ and is obtained by exposure of the skin to sunlight and from the diet. 

Nowadays, this vitamin is added to many commercially prepared foods including dried milk and bread.
In tropical countries such as Nigeria, there should be no reason why anyone should suffer from this disease as anyone can obtain enough sunshine throughout the year. However, vitamin D deficiency is becoming common in urban areas due to lack of exposure to sunlight and large apartment houses with overcrowded conditions.

3. Iodine deficiency in water, leading to Goiter and Cretinism which causes mental retardation.

Goiter is the name used for any swelling of the thyroid gland found in the neck region. There are certain areas in the world where members of the population suffer from this disease. The cause is usually nutritional due to lack of the mineral iodine.

The amount of iodine contained in the soil differs from place to place and this affects the quantity both in foods grown in the area and in the water supply. Sea foods such as fish, shellfish and seaweed are rich sources of iodine. Areas where goiter is common is far from the sea.

The thyroid gland requires iodine to produce thyroxin which contains about 64% iodine. When iodine is deficient in the diet the gland enlarges and thus compensate for the deficiency.
Goiter, if prevalent in a population, is a public health problem. The most satisfactory measure is to add potassium or sodium iodide to salt sold in the area or to encourage the population to consume more sea food, fresh or dried.

Cretinism (Dwarfism) in children may occur due to iodine deficiency in the mother. Children will be slow to develop, small in size, mentally dull, with a protruding tongue.
A cretin suffering from thyroxin deficiency
4. Protein – Calorie malnutrition of young children.
Protein – Calorie malnutrition in young children poses the most important and widespread nutritional problem in the world today. This is more so in the developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, with a lower standard of living, poor nutrition education and varied and outdated nutritional habits.

The two main diseases resulting from this deficiency are Kwashiorkor and Marasmus. These two diseases are regarded as disease of the poor due to inadequate diet, too much carbohydrate or a combination of several factors.

Kwashiorkor, this disease occurs mainly in children 1 – 3 years of age. It occurs in children whose diet is grossly deficient in protein. In Africa and especially in Nigeria, it is a disease of the weaning period when child is taken from breast milk to a starchy diet. Breast milk can sustain a healthy condition only for the first 4 – 6 months, afterwards this should be supplemented with an additional diet which should be adequate and balance not lacking in protein.

Marasmus, is a disease similar to kwashiorkor but is more common in children under 1 year of age. The cause is due to starvation and under feeding or severe cases of neglect. The major difference between kwashiorkor and marasmus cases are that the marasmic child shows greater appetite, less subcutaneous fat, but is alert with no oedema or skin trouble.
A child with Marasmus
Kwashiorkor and Marasmus were rampant in the war – affected areas during the Nigerian Civil War. Sometimes both diseases may be present in one child. Researches have shown that children who have suffered from these disease in childhood, have some permanent stunting of physical growth.

It may also result in lack of full intellectual and psychological development. This may be due to a reduced number of brain cells and so a smaller brain.
Therefore it is thought that factors such as poverty, ignorant and illiterate parents, over-crowding, occurrence of infectious diseases, poor educational facilities and many others may be causes of both malnutrition and poor mental and emotional development in children.

5. Pellagra is a deficiency disease usually associated with starch – eating people of the world. It is primarily due to a dietary deficiency of niacin, one of the B complex vitamins.

6. Scurvy is not very common in populations where plenty of fruits, particularly citrus fruits are consumed. It results from a deficiency of vitamin C.
Vitamin C is necessary for the formation of intercellular materials and their healthy upkeep. If there is a deficiency, the walls of the capillaries lack strength and become fragile resulting in bleeding.

7. Obesity, to be overweight is to be unhealthy. Too much fat helps to cause high blood pressure, heart diseases, stroke, gallstones, diabetes, and arthritis in the leg and feet. Fat is made by the body if too much carbohydrate and fat are eaten. So a diet rich in starch and sugar can lead to obesity.

This is a common condition in affluent parts of the world where incidence of heart diseases is also high. Obese people should lose weight by not eating fatty foods, not eating sugar and sweet foods, getting more exercise, and not eating so much starchy food such as corn, bread, potatoes, rice, pasta and cassava. They should eat fruits, vegetables and lean meat, and avoid over eating.

Suggestions for eliminating Malnutrition in Africa
1. There should be specific and clear government policy on national nutrition.

2. Increased food production, particularly animal protein, by improved farming of all kinds, utilizing protein from animal and plant sources and proper marketing and distribution.

3. Reduction of losses from spoilage, bad harvesting, poor storage and parasitic and pest infestation by modern storage and preservation methods.

4. Universal education in nutrition in primary school, secondary (High) school and post – secondary institutions, medical and para – medical institutions.

5. Adult education classes especially for mothers on cooking, meal planning and proper use of locally available food materials and proper feeding of children.

6. Government – subsidized production of cheap but balanced baby foods from locally available products, and made available cheaply to all low income families in towns and villages.

7. Mass – Media propaganda and education on the ill effects of malnutrition and how to overcome them by proper diet (by movies, posters, lectures etc.).

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