The Challenge of Malnutrition in Nigeria
Nigeria is experiencing a double burden of malnutrition, where under-nutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies, exists alongside overweight, obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases.
Malnutrition can be considered as a poor condition of health caused by lack of food or lack of the right kind of food or a nutritional disorder caused by eating little or too much of a particular nutrient. It can be referred to deficiency, excess, or imbalance of energy, protein and other nutrients which adversely affects the body's tissues and form.
Over the years the country has recorded increase in global food index, increase in domestic food production, improved nutritional standards and high importation of food products to partially to fill the growing deficits. Despite all this efforts, the country still has the second highest burden of stunted children in the world, with a national prevalence rate of 32 percent of children under five. An estimated 2 million children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) where only two out of every 10 children affected is currently reached with treatment. Many Nigerians are not informed about the issues of malnutrition and the dangers it possess on their health. For instance, under nutrition increases the risk of infections and diseases and when it occurs during pregnancy, or before two years of age of a child, it may result in permanent problems with physical and mental development.
The country’s malnutrition crises can be attributed to food insecurity resulting from poor funding for sustainable policies, limited mechanized farming, poor rural development, and prohibitive practices that disenfranchise women farmers, and this leads to about 9 out of 10 Nigerians not being able to afford a healthy diet for themselves.
The COVID-19 pandemic particularly worsened the hunger situation by impacting on food prices and supply.
Nigerian agricultural sector is chronically underfunded. Nigeria total dependent on oil has led to the neglect of its agricultural sector which has a high potential of improving the country’s GDP and tackling the issues of food insecurity. Several agricultural development projects have been launched in the past which have recorded little or no sustainable impact. Changes in Government and their policies have been seen as the major cause of crises around food security and agriculture, nutrition, sustainable food production and distribution.
Nigeria ranks poorly in food affordability, availability, quality and safety with a high rate of poverty being the leading cause for lack of dietary diversity and malnutrition.5 Cultural and gender norms can also be seen as factors that contribute to poor nutrition and health among women and children who are considered most vulnerable. A general lack of awareness about resources for nutrition, poor maternal nutrition and health, poor breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices, frequent illness among children of less than two years of age and food insecurity can be seen as the major drivers of malnutrition among women and children in the country.6
The prevalence of stunted growth among children and half of all childhood deaths annually is attributed to malnutrition. A report by VCDP Nigeria shows that the costs of malnutrition include the economic costs associated with the increased burden on the healthcare system and indirect costs as a result of lost productivity. Furthermore, inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services and unhygienic environments increase the risk of diarrhea and environmental enteropathy, which can lead to the reduced absorption of nutrients.
Global database on the Implementation of Nutrition Action (GINA) of World Health Organization (WHO) have recorded several policies on National Plan of Action on Food and Nutrition in Nigeria adopted by Nigerian Government. One of such is the Nigeria’s Food and Nutrition Program to improve the nutritional status of Nigerians particularly women, children and elderly. This program suffered a setback due to ineffective monitoring system, improper and non-enforcement of food laws and customs to protect food quality and safety.
Improving Capacity to address Food and Nutrition issues program which was targeted at incorporating food and nutrition goals into government plan by developing a framework for monitoring nutrition situation across all levels also experienced lack of allocation of funds and collaboration among various levels of government.
Inadequate dissemination of information, poor educational infrastructure for communication stalled the Raising Awareness Program and understanding of the problems of Malnutrition in Nigeria. Thus, hindering the promotion of habits and activities which would have led to a reduction in the level of malnutrition and adoption of behaviors to effect this changes.
The issue of malnutrition in Nigeria is multifaceted and should be a duty of every individual, government agencies, partners and key stakeholders in Nigeria to implement lifesaving and life-enhancing nutrition interventions. These interventions could be through:
· Delivering a comprehensive maternal nutrition program, strengthening the capacity of health care workers and community-based health volunteers and expanding knowledge and awareness about micronutrient supplementation and healthy eating.
· Provision of adequate funding for development programs, strictly monitoring the implementation process of nutrition programs and adoption of public private partnership by the Government.
If we are to win the war against malnutrition in Nigeria, government together with private partners and international organizations should work closely with the people to provide technical assistance.
References  Nigeria - Nutrition International (nutritionintl.org)  Malnutrition in Nigeria; Causes, Effects and How to Combat It - InfoGuide (infoguidenigeria.com)  Hickson, M. and Smith, S., 2018. Advanced nutrition and dietetics in nutrition support. Wiley, p.  Nutrition | UNICEF Nigeria  Malnutrition in Nigeria; Causes, Effects and How to Combat It - InfoGuide (infoguidenigeria.com)  Opinion: Beyond COVID-19 — addressing food insecurity in Nigeria | Devex  https://nigeria.oxfam.org/agriculture-budget-trends-analysis  Food Security and Nutrition – VCDP Nigeria  Policy - National Plan of Action on Food and Nutrition in Nigeria | Global database on the Implementation of Nutrition Action (GINA) (who.int)