Malnutrition not Only a Social, Health Problem, but Economic, Study Showsc

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Malnourished children

Martins Ifijeh
A recent study by Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) shows that malnutrition, especially in children, does not only affect the health and social lives of a people, but plays a significant impact in the economic relevance of a society.

It says many African countries, including Nigeria were beginning to lose economic relevance as a result of present and past child malnutrition.

The COHA study is locally led by National Implementation Team (NIT) which comprises experts from different government ministries and departments, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) Nigeria, among other partners.

In Nigeria, over 11 million children are said to be malnourished, the highest in Africa, and second highest globally. India has the highest malnutrition burden in the world.

Experts say until the country collectively tackled the scourge, it may not become the developed nation it hoped to be in the nearest future.

With little attention being invested in the issue by policy makers, it does not come as a surprise that families, too, care less about what constitutes a nutritious meal. Many are obsessed with filling their stomach at the expense of the real nutritional needs a body requires for it to function well.

Malnutrition is also blamed for school repetitions, school dropouts and reduced physical capacities in children aged five years and below. These factors put together, bring about a silent yet very stinging effect on the country’s economic front.

In a presentation at the Nutrition Committee Dialogue in Abuja, the Senate Committee Chairman on Health, Senator Lanre Tejuoso, raised the alarm that there was a huge drain on Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to poor child development and micronutrient deficiencies as a result of stunting that has affected several millions of Nigerians.

“Some have grown into adults but without meaningfully contributing to the country’s GDP while over 11 million children below five years are still grasping with the silent killer in the country.” A narrative that suggests, if not checked, the next generation of Nigerian citizens may also end up contributing less to the country’s GDP.

Tejuoso said he has identified malnutrition as a scourge in the country that must be eradicated if the stakeholders must succeed in giving the dividends of democracy to the citizens, adding that if Nigeria continues this way, it may continue to contribute the second highest number of child deaths in the world and will be unable to meet global nutrition targets adopted by the World Health Assembly.

“One third (33 per cent) of children in Nigeria under five years of age suffer from chronic malnutrition or stunting which is even more prevalent among the poorest Nigerians. Half of the children in the poorest 40 per cent of households are stunted,” adding that, “nine of the North-east and North-west states, comprising Bauchi, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, Zamfara, have rates of child stunting that exceed 50 per cent, which is well above the highest rates of malnutrition in countries in Africa,” he said.

While adding that some states in the South have stunting as low as nine per cent, he said the stunting gap between the North and the South was widening and would lead to greater economic disparities in the future. But was optimistic that since some states have managed to virtually eliminate stunting, it demonstrates that the problem can be tackled effectively if proactive measures were taken.

Tejuoso believed malnutrition perpetuates poverty by reducing children’s brain development, their ability to learn and to be productive citizens during their adult years, adding that stunted children learn less in school; are more likely to drop out of school and will subsequently earn less as adults.