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Stakeholders urges food fortification policy

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By Usman Oladimeji

44.1 percent of Nigerian children under the age of 5 are stunted.

Stakeholders in Nigeria’s nutrition sub-sector have called on the Federal Government to implement the food fortification policy that has already been developed in the face of widespread hunger, malnutrition, and a deficiency in nutrients — factors which are supposed to aid cognitive and physical development in Nigerians, especially children under the age of five and the workforce. During a campaign launch and media roundtable on Promoting Fortification Compliance and Workforce Nutrition in Nigeria Themed: “Fortifying Nigeria’s Future” on Thursday in Lagos the stakeholders bemoaned that the country is experiencing a severe nutrition crisis.

A coalition including the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), the Civil Society Legislative lobbying Centre (CISLAC), and E-Health Africa led the advocacy campaign. The gathering featured presentations by Senator Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health; Professor Wasiu Afolabi, President of the Nutrition Association of Nigeria; and Professor Ogunmoyela, President/CEO of the Consumer Advocacy for Food Safety and Nutrition Initiative (CAFSANI). Millions of Nigerians are malnourished, and many more are overweight or obese, CISLAC Executive Director Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani said in his opening remarks.

Percentage of overweight and obese people in Nigeria has risen.

Dr. Oloriegbe also indicated that 44.1% of Nigerian children under the age of 5 are stunted (i.e., they are excessively short for their age), according to the National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) 2022. Despite a little drop from the 46.0% recorded in 2018, this is still a remarkably high figure. Stunting is an indicator of long-term malnutrition and has negative effects on health and growth. The survey also found that 23 percent of children in Nigeria under the age of five are wasted, defined as being abnormally thin for their height.

This is an increase from 19.9% recorded on 2018. Wasting is a symptom of acute malnutrition, which can be fatal. According to the NDHS, the percentage of overweight and obese people in Nigeria rose to 18.7% and 4.4%, respectively, from 17.4% and 3.4% in 2018. Heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and several forms of cancer all have significant associations with being overweight or obese. Senator Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe, chairman of the Senate’s committee on health, divulged his emotional state at the fact that 6 million children in Nigeria are undernourished.

The media roundtable proposes a number of measures.

Take note that the stakeholders’ proposed implementation of Food Fortification Policy is an effective strategy of improving nutrition and health. It’s a low-effort, low-cost solution for improving the health of huge populations by improving the nutritional value of food consumed regularly. The media roundtable proposes a number of measures, such as prioritizing food fortification throughout manufacturing processes and production chains through proactive media reportage that promotes well-informed citizens on appropriate food choices, and integrating food fortification into the policies of organizations, along with targeted sensitization and awareness of employees’ levels to activate compliance to workforce nutrition, while enhancing productivity in the work environment.

Highlighting the cost-benefits of implementing workplace compliance to food fortification to encourage investment that promotes employees’ health and socio-economic well-being as well as best practice at organizational levels; Formulation and full implementation of adequate regulatory framework through the proactive legislative process to enforce compliance to food fortification across manufacturing processes and production chains in Nigeria; Mainstreaming a multi-stakeholders approach to food fortification advocacy through targeted engagement and awareness creation to drive all-inclusive enforcement of food fortification compliance.

Well-funded food fortification scheme can mitigate iron deficiency effects.

Furthermore, encouraging exclusive breastfeeding for the first one thousand days after birth to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition in children and promote healthy mental and physical growth; Developing an agenda of action to continuously monitor compliance levels to food fortification through investigative journalism and well-informed reporting to expose non-compliance and repeal any initiatives at boycotting policies and processes; the negative effects of iron deficiency, goiter prevalence, and zinc insufficiency can be mitigated by a well-funded food fortification scheme. Lastly, incorporating nutrition education into the school curriculum to embed nutrition education from childhood through adolescence as a sustainable method to encourage well-informed people on the consumption of fortified foods.

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