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7.3m undernourished females in Nigeria

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By Usman Oladimeji

Nigeria now among nations most hit by the worldwide food and nutrition crisis.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report released ahead of the 2023 International Women’s Day, 7.3 million teenage girls and women of reproductive age in Nigeria are undernourished, endangering women and new-born babies. The report tagged “Undernourished and Overlooked: A Global Nutrition Crisis in Adolescent Girls and Women” raises concern on the current crises of nutrition that has been spiraling out of control among adolescent girls and women that had already made only modest progress over the previous two decades. This is reportedly precipitated by the unceasing gender inequality issue.

It also showed that between 2018 and 2021, the number of undernourished Nigerian women and girls aged 15 to 49 increased dramatically, from 5.6 million to 7.3 million. As a result, Nigeria is now placed among the 12 nations most hit by the current worldwide food and nutrition crisis. Recent upheaval like COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and continued drought, warfare, and instability in other nations have all contributed to a worldwide nutrition crisis that has affected numerous countries hard, including Nigeria. Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen are all on the list.

Nutrition crisis is leading to acute malnutrition for millions of women.

In addition, the 2022 Nigerian National Food Consumption and Micronutrient Survey found that an estimated 55 percent of teenage girls and women in the country are anemic. Nearly half of Nigerian women of childbearing age do not eat enough of the recommended five out of ten food groups, including grains and tubers, pulses, nuts and seeds, dairy, meat, poultry and fish, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables, other vitamin A rich fruits and vegetables, and other vegetables and fruits.

The executive director of UNICEF, Catherine Russell, commented on the report, saying that the nutrition crisis is leading to acute malnutrition and starvation for millions of women and their children. She warned that future generations may be impacted negatively if the international community did not take immediate action. As contained in the report, over one billion teenage girls and women face grave effects due to undernutrition (including underweight and short height), shortages in important micronutrients, and anemia.

12 million children under the age of five in Nigeria are stunted.

Undernourishment in adolescent girls and women is linked to a host of negative outcomes, especially during pregnancy and the postpartum period. This may endanger the lives of the mothers involved by lowering their immune systems and preventing their children from reaching their full potential in terms of survival, growth, learning, and future ultimate performance. As an example, in Nigeria 12 million children under the age of five are stunted, implying they are underweight for their age. Half of these children were affected by prenatal and early childhood stunting.

To ensure a better future for children in Nigeria, Cristian Munduate, UNICEF representative in Nigeria stated that the country must place more emphasis on enabling women and girls with access to healthy food and nutrition services. Munduate has called for immediate action from the international community and the government of Nigeria. Women’s access to safe, healthy food is disproportionately impacted by ongoing global issues. A staggering 126 million more women than males experienced food insecurity in 2021, a huge increase from the 49 million recorded in 2019.

UNICEF boosted efforts to aid nations affected by the nutrition crisis.

Sequel to this, UNICEF has, since last year, boosted its efforts to aid nations like Nigeria that are affected by the worldwide nutrition crisis. The UNICEF report further calls governments, humanitarian partners and contributors, civil society organizations, and development actors to improve access to food, healthcare, and social protection for women and girls in their adolescent and teenage ages. This may be accomplished by restricting marketing to adolescents, requiring labels and taxes on ultra-processed foods, and expanding access to healthy, cost-effective nutritious foods for women and girls.

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