International Day of the Girl Child 2020: Access to Nutrition
Adequate nutrition is fundamental to the good health of any individual and therefore, access to nutrition is paramount. Poor health in individuals can be associated with such lack of access to nutrition and this may be referred to as malnutrition. Malnutrition is a state of not having enough to eat, not eating enough of the right things, or being unable to use the food that one does eat due to some form of deficiency.1 The problem of malnutrition in Nigeria can summarily be categorised as inadequate nutrition and is a prevailing problem affecting millions of people, and more drastically, women and children.
Inadequate Nutrition Statistics in Nigeria: Girls and Women
An estimated 2 million children in Nigeria suffer from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), but only two out of every 10 children affected receive treatment.2
Women of childbearing age also suffer this illness, with an estimate of 7%.
Due to inadequate nutrition, an estimated 71% of children, and 48% of women and girls of reproductive age, are anemic.3
Factors Affecting Lack of Access to Nutrition for Girls and Women in Nigeria
Food Insecurity: The impact of conflict and other shocks, coupled with the alarming rate of poverty in Nigeria has resulted in acute levels of food insecurity, and potential pockets of famine in the North East zone.4 An estimated 3.1 million people in the Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states received emergency food assistance or cash transfers in the first half of 2017.5
Lack of Education: Adequate knowledge of nutrition is generally received through education and is necessary for encouraging good feeding and health practices. Thus, the higher level of education girls and women of reproductive age gain, the more access to good nutrition she can provide for herself and her children. However, in Nigeria, more than half of women in rural Nigeria never attended school, and a higher percentage of girls drop out of school before they attain 15 years of age, thereby denying them the basic knowledge of health and nutrition.6
Socio-Economic Status: Young girls face many challenges due to nutritional deficiencies and these challenges tend to be exacerbated by their socio-economic vulnerability in society. Illiteracy, financial dependence, and gender-based violence and discrimination are all factors which leave girls vulnerable and unable to take care of their health and nutrition adequately.
Effects of Inadequate Nutrition on Girls and Women in Nigeria
The effects of this on girls and women in the society is particularly harmful due to the reproductive capacity they bear.
Infant Disability/Mortality: Children of malnourished women are more likely to face cognitive impairments, lower resistance to infections, and a higher risk of disease and death throughout their lives.7 Malnutrition is also a direct or underlying cause of 45% of all deaths of under-five children.8
Reproductive Health Challenges: Girls of childbearing age who become pregnant bear great risk of complications during pregnancy, at childbirth and after childbirth since they may not yet have fully developed. Pregnant adolescents who are underweight or stunted are especially likely to experience obstructed labour and other obstetric complications.9
Improving Access to Nutrition for Girls and Women in Nigeria
Education: By ensuring that girls have access to education which includes teaching important knowledge on nutrition, girls and women are empowered to make better and healthier decisions that give them access to good nutrition.
Efforts of Public Health Systems: The public health sector should work towards preventing and treating malnutrition and helping households meet the nutritional needs of women and young girls. They also need to provide them with access to quality health care, clean water, and adequate sanitation.
Policy Efforts: Policymakers should establish and advocate for policies which address girls’ and women’s poor socio-economic status and vulnerability in society to empower them to acquire access to good nutrition.
The lack of access to nutrition faced by girls is a dire situation for which little to no progress has been made due to ignorance and gender discrimination. For example, symptoms of malnutrition, such as the lethargy and depression caused by iron deficiency, may be dismissed as “normal” or unimportant, further exacerbating the problem.10 It is pertinent therefore for Nigeria to allocate more time and resources to study these issues in order to curb food insecurity and malnutrition and preserve the health and welfare of women and girls, and by extension, the entire nation.