Poor knowledge of healthy foods causing malnutrition –Dietician

Yusuff Moshood

Principal Dietician and National National Publicity Secretary, Nutrition Society of Nigeria, Mr. Olusola Malomo, says poor knowledge of how to properly combine food varieties healthily is a major reason for malnutrition and undernutrition in the country.

Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise in an interview, Malomo said it has become imperative for Nigerians to embrace the knowledge of healthy foods to prevent diseases associated with micronutrients deficiencies.

He noted that many health conditions could be prevented and properly managed with a healthy diet.

Malomo was reacting to a new World Health Organisation action framework for healthy foods.

The WHO framework announced on Tuesday was aimed at ensuring that more people around the world are provided with healthy food by encouraging governments to support the implementation of policies for a healthy diet.

The WHO while announcing the action framework through a press release posted on its website, explained that public settings, such as schools, childcare centres, nursing homes, hospitals, canteens and correctional facilities can play a key role in providing healthy foods to the people.

The new framework, WHO noted, will help prevent eight million annual deaths caused by unhealthy foods.

Malomo, however, insisted that while the government has a big role to play in encouraging healthy foods, Nigerian households and citizens need to also embrace the culture of avoiding unhealthy foods.

“We don’t have a culture of eating healthy food in Nigeria, even though we have good food in abundance.

“Even those in the rural areas and close to fresh natural foods now prefer processed foods like the people in urban areas.

“And in the urban areas, fresh foods are hardly available because of the challenge we have with distribution as a result of the transportation problem. So most people don’t eat fresh fruits and vegetables.

“So, what the WHO framework is saying is that we need to encourage the culture of eating healthy foods.

“This is the way to go as consumption of healthy foods will help boost the immunity of the people which is even very crucial in this period that we are battling COVID-19 and other infections that are more difficult to contend with by patients with poor immunity,” he said.

Unhealthy foods

Malomo also noted that the WHO framework can help Nigeria if it is well implemented, noting that all it requires is empowering relevant agencies to domesticate and implement the guidelines.

“If this framework is put under a structured system of implementation through states committee on nutrition and allowed to cascade down to the local government levels, it can help.

“If well implemented, in the next five years we can have a more healthy population.

“To start with, the government can ensure people at correctional facilities get healthy food as they cannot control what they eat. It can also ensure that the protocol of hygiene and safety are enforced in our public canteen to prevent diseases of unhealthy foods like diarrhoea.

“Government can and should indeed be playing a big role in encouraging proper nutrition.

“For instance, the Federal Government’s school feeding programme is an example of good government intervention in nutrition. Research has shown that such an initiative help reduce malnutrition in children.

“Government can also help with the implementation of healthy food initiatives in health facilities by encouraging fruit consumption during routine immunisation.

“If women are sensitised and given fruits when they go for routine immunisation it may help create awareness and encourage a culture of eating fruits,” Malomo said.

The dietician said malnutrition and undernutrition are very common in Nigeria.

He explained that malnutrition occurs when the body doesn’t get enough nutrients and refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients, adding that undernutrition is responsible for wasting (low weight-for-height), stunting (low height-for-age) and underweight.

“For individuals to have good health and adequate nutrients, they must consume food in recommended allowance from all the food groups.

“It is when you don’t do that you come down with vitamin C deficiency, iron deficiency, anaemia and other micronutrient deficiency conditions.

“People must also know what to consume and what to avoid. Nigerians need to stop consuming excessive salts as it increases hypertension and they should also reduce oil in their food as it increases hyper-cholesterol, he said.

According to the Global Burden of Disease study published in The Lancet in 2019, people in almost every region of the world could benefit from rebalancing their diets to eat optimal amounts of various foods and nutrients.

The study which tracked trends in consumption of 15 dietary factors from 1990 to 2017 in 195 countries estimated that one in five deaths globally – equivalent to 11 million deaths – are associated with a poor diet.

The study also noted that diet contributes to a range of chronic diseases in people around the world, noting that in 2017, more deaths were caused by diets with too low amounts of foods such as whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds than by diets with high levels of foods like trans fats, sugary drinks, and high levels of red and processed meats.

The new framework, the global health agency said, would guide developing and implementing public food procurement and service policies for a healthy diet.

The initiative, WHO said, “aims to increase the availability of healthy food through setting nutrition criteria for food served and sold in public settings.

“The action framework also aims to reduce preventable diseases and deaths from high consumption of sodium and salt, sugars and fats, particularly trans fats, and inadequate consumption of whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit.”

The WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in the press statement said: “Public places that serve the entire community, including our most vulnerable populations, must be places where healthy diets are promoted not discouraged.

“Now is the time for governments to lead by example through ensuring that the food served or sold in public settings contributes to healthy diets and saves lives. No public funds should be spent on food contributing to unhealthy diets.”

The global health agency stated that consuming a healthy diet from pre-birth to the last days of life is vital to preventing all forms of malnutrition as well as diabetes, cancers and other non-communicable diseases, noting that the new action framework will serve as a tool for governments to develop, implement, monitor and evaluate public food procurement and service policies that align with the core principles of healthy diets as outlined in existing WHO recommendations.

The recommendations, WHO said, includes a limit on sodium consumption and ensuring that salt is iodized; a limit on the intake of free sugars and a shift from saturated fats consumption to unsaturated fats.

Other recommendations include eliminating industrially-produced trans fats; increase in consumption of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts and pulses and ensuring the availability of free, safe drinking water.

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