The Federal Government of Nigeria has been called upon to, as a matter of urgency, actively pursue the development and implementation of a protein-centred national nutrition policy in the quest to curb the menace of protein deficiency and contribute to efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 2 which deals with improvement in nutrition.
Medical and Nutrition Experts made this call while speaking at the recent Protein Challenge Webinar Series 6, with the theme: The Case for a Protein-Centred National Nutrition Policy.
Dr. Adepeju Adeniran, a clinician physician and public expert who delivered the keynote address at the ZOOM session, argued that a protein-centred national nutrition policy is imperative to reduce the level of protein deficiency in the nation.
According to her, “Nutrition is an essential part of health planning, whether at the individual, sub-national or national levels. Nutritional policies are often created as a response to a population health need and the Nigerian people need access to protein food sources to resolve issues of protein deficiency.”
Dr. Adeniran explained that protein deficiency affects nutritionally vulnerable individuals like pregnant and lactating mothers, geriatrics (old persons) and most especially, children.
She cited data from the National Demographic Health Survey 2018 (NDHS) and the Nigerian Protein Deficiency Report 2019, which stated that the attitudes and meal behaviours of Nigerians are tilted towards consumption of carbohydrate loaded diets, hence the need for a protein-centred policy.
She made reference to the impact that nutritional policies have had on global health. She said: “In Jordan, a wheat flour fortification program was implemented by the government from 2002, where the staple flour was fortified with iron and folic acid. From 2006, other micronutrients such as zinc, niacin, and vitamins were also added to wheat products.”
She further cited Nigeria as an example of a country that authorised nutrition policies in the past, noting that: “around the ’90s, iodine deficiency was also combated by increasing the public’s education on the benefits of iodine in the diet, improving knowledge of iodine deficiency and finally by the fortification of domestic table salts with iodine to increase the consumption of iodine in the home.”
Another panelist, Dr. Beatrice Oganah-Ikujenyo, a seasoned nutritionist and teacher, stated that there are several barriers that can hinder effective implementation of a protein centred nutrition policy.
She said: “A dearth of nutrition professionals, a deficiency of nutrition courses in universities and a lack of government funding, can adversely affect nutrition policies.”
She added that nutrition in the nation has always been viewed as a multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary issue, which has been combined with agriculture, health, science, commerce and industry, instead of as a stand-alone discipline or subject.
Dr. Oganah-Ikujenyo posited that “the establishment of a Ministry of Food and Nutrition headed by a nutritionist that will make the implementation of nutrition policies easier.”
Dr. Omadeli Boyo, Medical Director, Pinecrest Specialist Hospital, Lagos, spoke extensively on the level of malnourished and stunted children in Nigeria. He stated that the number of children between six months and five years, who are wasted and severely stunted is simply alarming and unacceptable.
He said: “Nigerians need a protein-centred national nutrition policy now, more than ever. The difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the protein deficiency issue have brought the urgency of the situation to the fore.”
The webinar was moderated by Mrs. Louisa Olaniyi, a broadcaster from RAVE Television.