By Veronica Eneh Ejembi
Nutrition, whether at the individual, domestic or national level, is an essential part of health and development that cannot be overemphasized. Achieving optimal nutrition is critical to any nation. This is particularly true for the nutritionally vulnerable (pregnant women and their unborn children, elderly, children under five, immune-compromised individuals and people living with chronic illnesses). A country’s health index can be used to predict its economic potential and development projection. Since it has been established that the health status of a country is important, there is the need to have a nutrition policy in place to enable it tackle emergent health issues.
A policy is a statement of intent proposed by an organisation or an individual to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes. Policies are necessary tools for addressing issues and one of such policies that are essential is a nutritional policy. A nutritional policy is an agreed statement by an authoritative body (usually the government) of its intent to act to maintain or alter the food supply, nutritional status or some indicator in the society. Often, nutritional policies are created and implemented as planning tools to ensure population health optimisation, or created as a response to a population health need.
No doubt, implementing a protein-centred nutrition policy will help influence people’s attitude towards consuming protein-rich foods and limit illnesses associated with protein deficiency. Besides, a nutritional policy will help change certain cultural behaviours like giving the head of a household a large portion of available protein foods, considering protein a ‘luxury food’ and not prioritising protein in one’s diet.
Globally, national nutrition policies have had a positive impact on health. For example, the wheat flour fortification programme in Jordan where the staple flour is fortified with iron and folic acid then later with zinc, niacin and vitamins A and B. The United States of America also had a programme to influence the increase in consumption of dairy. In Nigeria, iodine deficiency was also combated by increasing the public’s education of the benefits of iodine in diet. These examples show that having a protein-centred national nutrition policy may indeed be the way to go in tackling protein deficiency in Nigeria.
To develop and implement a protein-centred nutrition policy in Nigeria, certain frameworks should be in place. These guidelines were discussed by medical experts and nutritionists at the recently held Protein Challenge Webinar Series 6 themed ‘The Case for a Protein-Centred National Nutrition Policy.’
Here are three pillars that should be a part of such a policy:
Education About Protein Benefits
A lot of people lack the necessary information about the benefits of protein and this has hampered its consumption. Education about protein should not be restricted to classrooms and in theory only. Head of households, key nutrition decision makers and homemakers should be educated at community centres, primary health centres and religious places on the benefits of including protein in the family diets. The woman functions as a gatekeeper in the home and educating her on the need for protein-rich foods and the risks associated with not eating enough protein will help influence the consumption of proteins in the home.
Availability of Protein-rich Foods
Protein-rich foods need to be prioritised and made available for consumption. This can be achieved if agricultural and food production policies support farmers by providing them with fertilizers, transportation, storage and processing facilities. Initiatives like these will encourage more farmers to plant and produce more protein-rich plants and rear animal proteins that are affordable for people to purchase and consume.
Affordability of Protein Food Sources
Most people tend to ignore protein foods because of the assumption that they are expensive. In a way, most animal proteins are pricey. It is therefore imperative to ensure constant availability of protein-rich foods as this will drive down cost and take care of price. Besides, the government can introduce subsidies to make certain protein foods affordable to a point where every household can afford to consume protein at every meal.
Nutritional policies, when implemented effectively have shown that there is a positive shift in the direction aimed for. This proves that creating and implementing a protein-centred nutrition policy would be a great step towards eradicating protein deficiency in Nigeria.
This protein-centred nutrition policy needs to target education, availability and affordability of protein-rich foods. Protein deficiency will become a thing of the past in Nigeria with the effective implementation of a protein-centred national nutrition policy.