Thirteen per cent of children under five years of age in Ghana are moderately or severely underweight while another three per cent are classified as severely underweight.
According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2011 of the Ghana Health Service, 23 per cent of the children are also moderately or severely stunted or too short for their age, and seven per cent are severely stunted. Also, six per cent of children under five are moderately or severely wasted or too thin for their height, while one per cent is severely wasted.
The MICS 2011 also found that children in the Northern and Upper East regions are more likely to be underweight and stunted than children in other regions.
In contrast, the percentage of wasting is higher in the Upper West and Volta regions, that is nine per cent for each of the regions.
It further indicates that the percentage of children who were underweight and stunted is higher in the rural than the urban areas.
Globally, it is estimated that 159 million children are stunted, 50 million are wasted and more than two billion people are overweight or obese.
Also, an estimated two billion people, that is over 30 per cent of the world’s population – suffer from deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals, especially iron, iodine, vitamin A and zinc.
Today, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of Vitamin A deficiency in the world. About 48 per cent of children between the ages of six months and five years suffer from this deficiency. Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness. Although sources of Vitamin A can be found in foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots and dark leafy green vegetables, which are
abundant in the African setting, it is not utilised for the benefit of the health of pregnant women and children who need them more.
Micro-nutrients are different from macro-nutrients such as protein, carbohydrate and fat. Micro-nutrients are so called because the body needs only very small quantities of them for survival. Micro-nutrient malnutrition can be a risk factor to many diseases and contribute to high rates of morbidity and mortality. Estimated
micro-nutrient deficiencies, according to the World Health Report 2002, account for about 7.3 per cent of the global burden of disease, with iron and Vitamin A deficiency ranking among the 15 leading causes of the global disease burden. Micro-nutrients include dietary minerals as zinc and iodine and they are necessary for the healthy functioning of all the body's systems, from bone growth to brain function.
Micro-nutrients are commonly referred to as vitamins which include Vitamins C, A, D, E and K, as well as the B-complex vitamins and minerals such as fluoride, selenium, sodium, iodine, copper and zinc.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says micro-nutrient deficiency presents a huge threat to the health of the world's population naming some common micro-nutrient deficiencies to include iodine deficiency, Vitamin A deficiency and iron deficiency. It estimates that the proportion of the world that is suffering from dietrelated malnutrition stands at just over one in three, but added that if the current trends continues, it will move to one in two.
Health experts’ opinion
At a food fortification forum in Nigeria in January 2013, Ms Joyce Okoree of the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) said evidence of high rates of micro-nutrient deficiency, especially in developing countries, was based on the fact that diets generally lack diversity as they were usually based on cereals, roots and tubers with low micro-nutrient content.
At the forum, Ms Okoree was of the view that “fortifying foods with vitamins and minerals played a key role in the prevention of micronutrient deficiencies, and through the addition of micro-nutrients to commonly consumed foods, large segments of the population could benefit from improved nutrition without major changes in their dietary habits.”
Iron deficiency is said to be the most common deficiency in the world and it is the only one prevalent in developed countries. Statistics from the WHO indicates that over 30 per cent of the world's population suffer from iron deficiency anaemia.
In developing countries, high rates of micro-nutrient deficiency were said to be based largely on the fact that diets generally lacked diversity as they were usually based on cereals, roots and tubers with low micro-nutrient content. However, populations with higher socio-economic status augment staples with micro-nutrient
rich foods. As a result, nutritionists and food system analysts across the globe were paying special attention to changes in the types and amounts of food that people consumed, their exercise patterns and the effects of change in lifestyles on their health.
Cues to action
As part of solving the issue, global leaders, through the United Nations (UN’s) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, have committed themselves, for the first time, to end malnutrition in all forms. Although food fortification is not a mandatory requirement in countries, food processors and manufacturers are allowed to add relevant micronutrients, such as Iodine and Vitamin A, to foods and beverages consumed regularly to help increase the micro-nutrient levels of vulnerable populations in order to help reduce issues of stunted growth, goitre and anaemia among other micro-nutrient related diseases.
Some fortified foods in Ghana currently are iodated salts, some Nestle products such as maggie cubes, Cerelac cereal and Nido powder milk.
Augmenting staples with micro-nutrient-rich foods promotes healthy life