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Nutrition: When one size does not fit all

By Ijeoma UKAZU

The nutritional needs of everyone are different and it is often based on individual differences, existing deficiencies, health challenges and illnesses, as well as toxic burdens.

A nutrition expert illustrates; “One-size-fits-all dietary advice is like expecting my eyeglasses to correct your vision; even if we both have blurry vision; we need a different prescription.”

In many families, children often bear the brunt of having inadequate nutrition due to varying reasons ranging from, health challenges of their parents, illnesses of a family member, and high cost of food items to food shortages amongst others.

Situations such as these could lead to child undernutrition, which World Health Organisation, WHO, said include: wasting (low weight-for-height), stunting (low height-for-age) and underweight (weight-for-age);

A WHO report states that about 45 per cent of deaths globally among children under five years of age are linked to undernutrition. These mostly occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Similarly, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, estimated that two million children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition, but only two out of every 10 children affected are currently reached with treatment.

The UN agency said Nigeria has the second-highest burden of stunted children in the world, with a national prevalence rate of 32 per cent of children under five.

The malnutrition situation in Nigeria among children is alarming as experts worry that if the right component of nutrition is denied to children the problem will linger.

A registered dietitian nutritionist, Chinyere Oduputa, notes that adequate nutrition cannot be overemphasized, stressing that food is said to be adequate when it contains all the nutrients the body requires in the right proportion to functioning well.

“The dietary requirements of a family are not one size fits all because there are different individuals in the family. The caloric intake of a hypertensive or obese parent has been reduced and the children cannot be subjected to that because they need more calories for growth,” she said.

She adds that an adequate diet is individualized to the need of a particular person, stressing that in the case of a parent with special nutrition needs, their diet has an altered quantity and texture while the children need the nutrients.

The nutritionist points out that, “Irrespective of the high cost of food, good nutrition is not about the cost, stressing that nutrition doesn’t have to be costly because there are several sources of a particular nutrient you can get from different foods like protein gotten from meat, fish can also be gotten from egg, crayfish. We have to be conscious of whatever goes into our body, as the saying goes ” You are what you eat” if you lack a particular nutrient it will reflect in your body.”

On the importance of nutrition, she further stated that adequate nutrition helps in maintaining a healthy weight, protects the body from chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, and heart diseases – which are often caused by poor nutrition, adding that adequate nutrition helps in strengthening the immune system, “Good nutrition also contributes heavily to the overall health and wellness of the human body and should never be skimped on.”

The nutritionist recommends that for families where the parents have health challenges, their food can be modified during preparation. For instance, for “A hypertensive parent, the food can be taken out separately with little or no salt can be added in that particular food while the children’s food can be prepared normally.

According to her, “Another thing that can be done is that a separate food can be made for the special diets of the parent instead of depriving the children of the nutrients their body needs to grow. It’s a decision that has to be made.

“Such family should practice menu planning. Planning meals in advance help to balance the required nutritional needs of every individual in the family.

Some factors are to be considered as well; it should include all the basic five groups (six classes of food), variety in appearance of food, that is colour, flavour, texture. personal preference, such as a diabetic family member cannot eat concentrated carbohydrates foods. It is not only more economical with regards to time and money but also ensures balanced and healthy meals.”

Speaking to The Abuja Inquirer in an interview, the Executive Secretary of Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition, CS-SUNN, Mr Sunday Okoronkwo, said as much as parents should take care of their health and nutrition needs, they should not deny their children adequate nutrition they require to grow properly.

He said, “For such a home, where the parents are facing some health challenges, it is only advisable to prepare two different pots of food to accommodate all. Even with the economic hardship, people must eat. Families in this category should find a way to balance their nutrition intake.”

Okoronkwo points out that the implication of not accommodating the nutritional needs of children in such families would lead to malnutrition or stunted growth as the child may end up having the same non-communicable disease that the parents had.

He said, “Inadequate diet could also lead to wasting if the children are not properly taken care of in the first 1000 days of life, would affect their brain development, immune system and make them more susceptible to non-communicable diseases and diabetes is one of such diseases. Parents must, by all means, ensure that their children get all nutritional components they need to grow”

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