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Is Your Food Giving You Too Few Nutrients or Too Many?

Funmi, a trader in Lagos has a 3-year-old daughter she loves deeply. One evening, a customer of hers brought it to her notice that her daughter might be malnourished and advised she visited the health facility.

"Mummy Kemi, does Kemi not eat well?" "She doesn't o! Why do you say so?" Funmi replied. "As a nurse, from Kemi?s appearance, I am inclined to think that she might be malnourished"

"Malnourished children don't grow well right?" "They do not.? her customer replied. "Ah! Please what can I do about this?" Funmi asked perplexed. " I?ll advise you go to the health centre as soon as you can" the customer said. " I'll be at the health centre with Kemi tomorrow. Thank you." Funmi said in a worried tone.

True to her word, Funmi and her daughter were at the health centre the next morning. She expressed her concern to the doctor. After Kemi was examined, the doctor began to answer her questions. "Malnutrition means getting too little or too much of certain nutrients in food. It is caused by a poor diet and inability of the body to absorb nutrients. When a person is not getting enough nutrients from food it is called undernutrition, which is what Kemi has.

If a person is getting more than enough nutrients it is called overnutrition. In undernutrition, the height and weight of the child is low for what is expected for the age. The child also lacks important vitamins and minerals like iron, zinc and vitamin A. Overnutrition occurs due to excessive intake of nutrients such as protein and fat which results in overweight and obesity."

"Malnutrition can happen to anybody irrespective of age. Individuals with increased nutritional needs like children, pregnant women and breastfeeding women are more at risk of being malnourished. Special attention should be paid to the diet of these groups of people. So more attention should be paid to Kemi's diet."

Funmi listened with increasing clarity as the doctor continued. "People with undernutrition have weight loss, sunken eyes, hollow cheeks, swollen abdomen, fatigue, dry hair and dry skin. Individuals with a deficiency of vitamins and minerals have stunted growth, night blindness, increased risk of infection, loss of appetite, delayed healing of wounds, hair loss, impaired brain function and diarrhoea. Health care providers assess a person's nutritional status to know whether they are malnourished or not."

Weight and height of the individual is measured. For children, the thickness of their arm and the circumference of their head is also to be measured." ? What are the effects of malnutrition, doc?? "If malnutrition is not treated, it can lead to serious health problems especially in children. Malnourished children are more susceptible to infectious diseases, they do not grow well and have learning difficulties as they grow. Malnutrition is also a cause of death among children under the age of five. If malnutrition in children persists for long without being treated, it can lead to stunting which is an irreversible impairment of a child's growth and development."

? What do I do now to help my daughter??

Dr Olowo responded, "Eating a healthy diet is the best way to prevent malnutrition. Different age groups have different nutritional needs. New-borns should be exclusively breastfed till they are 6 months of age. From 6 months to 2 years, they should be introduced to the family diet in addition to breastmilk. This is called complementary feeding. Readily available foods like soya beans, groundnuts, crayfish, fruits and vegetables should be added generously to the food of children at this age, since they are at risk of being malnourished as earlier stated.

These foods can be chopped into tiny pieces, ground into powder form or even made into a paste and added to pap, rice and virtually any food you give your child. Older childhood children and adolescents should also eat a healthy and balanced diet containing a wide variety of food. As adults advance in age, intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts should be increased and the intake of carbohydrates and protein should be reduced. Making better choices regarding what we eat is a giant step in preventing and stopping malnutrition."

"Mummy Kemi, I hope I have been able to answer all your questions. Please ensure you put all the what you've learnt today into practice so you and your daughter can have a healthier diet."

?Yes doctor, I now know what is appropriate to give Kemi for her growth. Thank you very much.? She left the hospital armed with new knowledge and a resolve to improve her child's health.

Written for Hellocare by Adetola Toye