A leading nutrition expert has called for the establishment of Home Economics and Nutrition Extension agents across the country in furtherance of efforts to curtail the menace of malnutrition, particularly protein malnutrition in Nigeria.
Prof. Henrietta Nkechi Ene-Obong of the Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Calabar, Cross River State, who made this call recently at the Protein Challenge Webinar themed ‘Bridging the Knowledge Gap’, noted that the agents would function much like agricultural extension officers, in the nutrition space.
She argued that the message about nutrition must be brought to the level of the people across every stratum of the economy and where possible provided in the local languages to help boost nutrition education.
According to her, “Home economics and nutrition extension agents would be in the best position to simplify the nutrition message and bring it to the people to bring about the desired outcome in behaviour from the citizenry.”
She called for the introduction of nutrition education in schools, nursery, primary and secondary, as students can learn and equally be able to teach their parents at home. The don stated that capacity must be developed to bridge the knowledge gap and put such knowledge into action.
Reports indicate that food consumption habits in Nigeria depend on the availability of food source, affordability of the food and knowledge of the nutrition value along with the personal choice or preference of the buyer.
On the importance of protein, she explained that proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of the body tissues; hence they are found throughout the body. Pregnant and lactating women need extra proteins to help in the development of the foetus and milk production, she noted. She said that healthy adults need to consume an average of 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight, for individuals with minimal to intense physical activity.
In family meals, it is important that carbohydrates with proteins are mixed, she said. “For example, rice and beans, yam and eggs. We must ensure that infants and young children consume foods from at least four food groups: grains, roots and tubers; legumes and nuts; dairy products; flesh foods and eggs; vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables (like carrots and sweet potatoes) and other fruits and vegetables.”
Prof Ene-Obong revealed that of all measures designed to stop all forms of malnutrition, the food-based approach is the most cost-effective.
She stated that with adequate nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life and adequate maternal and adolescent nutrition, the nation stands a better chance of curbing the menace of malnutrition. The home economics and nutrition agents will be at the forefront of pursuing this agenda.
The nutrition enthusiast stated that mothers need to be encouraged to engage in exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and to continue breastfeeding for two years. Adequate complementary feeding should also be promoted, the professor of human nutrition said.
Protein Challenge is the tag of The Nigeria Protein Awareness Campaign, a protein pull media campaign that seeks to create awareness about the prevalence, status and impact of protein deficiency in Nigeria.
The campaign aligns with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 – Zero Hunger – which seeks to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.