Martins Ifijeh

In a bid to reduce Nigeria’s high infant mortality rate, experts have called for emphasis to be placed on education and counseling on the importance of nutrition for children, starting with exclusive breast feeding.

They said most of the deaths during infancy were linked to poor nutrition, hence the need for Nigerians to be informed on the importance of nutrition for their infants and children.

The experts spoke recently, during a ‘Symposium and Convocation of Post Graduate Programme in Pediatric Nutrition’, an educational initiative supported by Nestle Nutrition Institute, in association with Boston University School of Medicine and Medinscribe, in Lagos.

A Professor of Paediatrics, University of Lagos, Dr. Chinyere Ezeaka, said, nutrition education was often a part of nutrition counseling session which should be adopted by health institutions.

He said: “If everybody embarks on optimal nutrition counseling and education, we would not be having a lot of issues around nutrition. Nutrition counseling and education should start with exclusive breastfeeding.” She maintained that there is need to change food practices and behaviours, as well as incorporate nutrition counseling and education in health delivery services.

“Nutrition education is any combination of educational strategies, accompanied by environmental supports, designed to facilitate voluntary adoption of food choices and other food and nutrition related behaviours conducive to health and well-being.

“Nutrition and counseling education are used to provide guidance to individuals on how to develop or change food practices and behaviours to meet their nutritional requirements and improve their health,” the Professor of Paediatrics said.

Powered by RubiQube Ad Network she lamented, “In spite of the benefits of nutritional counseling, many
physicians lack the requisite education and training in medical nutrition therapy to counsel their patients and to ensure continuity of nutrition care across healthcare providers.

“Therefore providing healthcare providers guidance on nutrition counseling and education is of paramount importance. “This is also where motivational interviewing comes in. “Motivational interviewing is a patient-centred counseling style that seeks to elicit internal motivation to change their behaviour and encourage them to understand and resolve their ambivalence about behavioural change. Motivational interviewing is regarded as a promising approach to nutrition counseling,’’ Ezeaka said.

Presenting a paper on ‘Establishing Healthy Food Habits in Children’, an Adjunct Professor of Nutrition, Children’s Hospital Harvard Medical School, U.S, Dr. Clifford Lo said it was important to establish healthy food habits early in life.

Lo, who represented the Boston School of Medicine, said, “The early years of life are characterised by rapid developmental changes in eating habits. “Infants begin to develop flavour preferences in the utero, through the amniotic fluid, long before they taste solid food.

“Postnatally, flavour learning continues through breast milk, with the introduction of complementary foods, infants further develop food and flavour preferences. “The dietary patterns learned during the early years of life track into later childhood and adulthood and form the basis for future eating patterns. “Consequently, it is important to establish healthy food habits and dietary habits early in life,” the Adjunct Professor of Nutrition added.

Responding, Chioma Emma-Nwachukwu, Manager, Anglophone Speaking Countries, Central and West Africa, Nestle Nutrition Institute Africa, said the programme would help equip healthcare providers with needed knowledge on nutrition and associated issues.

“The healthcare professionals don’t have enough nutrition training during their medical training, so, this programme is aimed at closing the gap. It is aimed at ensuring that every healthcare professional gets the right nutrition knowledge and is well equipped to make the right decisions.”

Emma-Nwachukwu further said; “In Nigeria, there is still opportunity to change the landscape on nutrition because there is a lot of malnutrition and micronutrients deficiency. So, they need to equip our healthcare professionals in the area of nutrition arise; this is also because investment made in the first 1000 years has a multiplier effect in later life.”