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EMELDA Musonda.

Malnutrition in the midst of plenty

WHEN I was growing up, I exclusively associated malnutrition with the most impoverished in society.The depiction of malnutrition to me was limited to children who were obviously underweight, stunted with dry inelastic skin and thin hair that falls out easily.
I had never imagined malnutrition among the rich.
But with more enlightenment, I have come to understand that malnutrition is in two forms – under-nutrition and over nutrition.
While many people are aware of under-nutrition, most of them are not conscious of over-nutrition.
This is because most people associate malnutrition with the poor who cannot afford adequately balanced diets.
The sad reality is that even those who can afford decent meals are at risk of over nutrition which is the cause of obesity.
Though we lack uniform and authenticated statistics on levels of obesity in the country, it is common knowledge that obesity is on the rise.
The rise mainly stems from the unhealthy lifestyles many people have adopted.
Today than before we have more people feasting on junk food.
Zambians who have the means have developed a culture of not only eating out but unhealthy as well.
According to nutrition experts, malnutrition is an imbalance between the nutrients the body needs and the nutrients it gets.
Since the body requires a certain amount of nutrients, every day, consuming too much or too little of any one, no matter how small, can cause malnutrition.
Over-nutrition is therefore the consumption of too many calories or too much of any specific nutrient—protein, fat, vitamin, mineral, or other dietary supplement thereby causing an imbalance in the body. This imbalance is malnutrition.
While under-nutrition is manifested through stunting and wasting; over nutrition manifests through obesity.
And obesity comes with an array of health risks such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, stroke, abnormal blood fat levels, osteoarthritis, menstrual irregularities, female infertility, fatty liver disease, gallstones and colon, breast and uterine cancer.
Actually, according to the World Cancer Research Fund, there are over 10 cancers with a linkage to overweight and obesity.
During the recent National Food and Nutrition Summit in Lusaka, President Lungu called for concerted efforts to help reverse growing levels of over-nutrition, especially among women in the childbearing age group which has resulted in a rise in lifestyle diseases.
“It is easier to focus on under-nutrition and forget the emerging and equally big problem of over-nutrition, which leads to obesity, the President said.
The President’s sentiments confirm the fact many people are not so conscious about malnutrition caused by overdose of certain nutrients in the body.
The head of State called for a cultural shift to bring together nutritionists, law-makers, fitness coaches, the Church and other stakeholders to reverse overweight and obesity.
As noted by President Lungu, citizens, especially women in the childbearing age, need a cultural shift on eating habits.
It is common for a breastfeeding mother to be encouraged to eat more to be able to lactate.
However, some women end up over-indulging in certain nutrients thereby creating an imbalance in the body.
There is therefore need for sensitisation through post-natal facilities on the need to take the right food, in right amounts and at the right time.
Citizens in general also need to adopt a lifestyle of physical exercises. This is one of the best ways known to get rid of excess fats in the body.
There is also need to heighten the campaign on eating healthy.
Time and again, President Lungu and the Vice President have spoken out on the need for citizens to keep and eat healthy.
Zambians need to rethink their diets to prevent malnutrition, which is also caused by lack of diverse nutrient intake.
This is because while some households may have plenty, there is a diverse component missing in the diets.
For instance, rural farmers may have plenty of maize, but that does not guarantee balanced diet.
Despite Zambia recording bumper harvests in the past farming seasons, malnutrition is still persistent.
This is why Government through the e-voucher programme is encouraging farmers to move away from mono-cropping to crop diversification, which ensures production of crops of diverse nutrition values.
Otherwise it does not make sense to have malnutrition in the midst of plenty.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.