Good nutrition is fundamental for achieving the right to health and proper well-being, as embodied in the third segment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). No country can achieve good health and well-being for its citizens without investing in essential nutrition and the implementation of qualitative nutrition policies.
A nutritional policy is an agreed statement by an authoritative body (usually the government) of its intent to act to maintain, or alter, the food supply, nutritional status, and nutritional index in the society.
Nutritional policies are often created and implemented as planning tools to ensure population health optimization, or as a response to a population health need.
Where face-to-face communication is limited – because of a large population, a pandemic, or a geographically dispersed set of individuals – a food nutrition policy is an answer to resolving malnutrition issues.
Experts at a recent Protein Challenge webinar, themed: The Case For a Protein-centred National Nutrition Policy recommended a nutrition policy as an effective means of curbing malnutrition, particularly protein deficiency, and achieving good health. Protein Challenge is the tag of The Nigeria Protein Awareness Campaign, a Protein Pull media campaign to create awareness about the prevalence, status and impact of protein deficiency in Nigeria.
According to Dr. Adepeju Adeniran, who delivered the lead paper, “Nutritional policies are formed as a response to a health problem and in the case of Nigeria, education, along with access to quality and affordable protein-rich food sources are urgently required to help curb incidences of protein deficiency.”
Protein deficiency is a type of deficiency that ensues when there is little or no adequate protein intake in the body. Protein deficiency affects nutritionally vulnerable individuals, like pregnant and lactating mothers, geriatrics (old persons) and most especially, children.
Protein deficiency is the consequence of primary malnutrition, and it occurs when there is no protein in our food. To remedy this condition on a nationwide scale, a sustainable, protein-centred nutrition policy is important. This is the only thing that can cascade throughout the entire demographics in one swipe.
The Nigerian government simply needs to observe how such policies have worked in other climes. Take Vietnam for example. The country was overwhelmed by iron deficiency anaemia.
This deficiency was targeted through a policy that delivered iron supplements, particularly to women and children suffering from iron deficiency.
The supplements were delivered through nurses, village health workers and health personnel directly to the women, alongside de-worming medication. The result was a huge reduction in iron deficiency, from the year 2000 till date. Subsequent generations have lived better, healthier lives, free of anaemia.
In Jordan, a country in the Middle East, a wheat flour fortification program was implemented by the government from 2002, where the staple flour was fortified with iron and folic acid. From 2006, other micronutrients such as zinc, niacin, and vitamins were also added to wheat products.
Statistics from the National Institute of Health (N.I.H.) and the World Health Organisation (W.H.O) showed that the rate of micronutrient deficiencies has considerably reduced in Jordan, from 82.9 per cent to 13.6 per cent.
Nigeria also had a nutrition policy in the past (the 1990’s) targeting iodine deficiency. Iodine deficiency was combated by increasing the general public’s education on the benefits of iodine in the diet, increasing the knowledge of iodine deficiency and finally by the fortification of domestic table salts with iodine to increase the consumption of iodine in the home.
In Nigeria today, almost every domestic salt in the country is iodized. The same model can be implemented for protein food sources to lessen protein deficiency in the country.
Besides, the government can support agricultural production by providing quality seeds and supporting the cultivation of protein-rich food crops like soybeans, groundnuts, legumes and all the beans varieties. This will improve the critical food systems, agricultural production and overall agricultural food supply.
Finally, adequate-protein fortification and multi-sectoral planning must be put in place to effectively implement a sustainable protein-centred nutrition policy. The government can also work with the private sector to ensure that all manufacturing, agro-processing and packaging industries add protein nutrients to staples nationwide.
Once all commercial and industrial companies come on board, individuals across the country will consume protein-enriched foods, and this will, in turn, lessen the burden of protein deficiency.
The government must also consider the use of subsidies to augment and support the consumption of protein-rich food sources.
All things considered, the development and implementation of a nationwide protein-centred nutrition policy may well be the key to curtailing protein deficiency in Nigeria.
Protein deficiency can be eliminated!
Reginald Onabu, Researcher and Public Relations Officer, Writes from Lagos.