As African countries transition from low income economies into middle income ones there has been a rise in the number of health challenges these economies are facing. Increasingly we are seeing a rising number of individuals with non communicable lifestyle conditions like heart attacks,cancer,diabetes and other respiratory diseases like asthma on the rise.
Individuals living in urban and peri urban areas are at risk as we have seen the mushrooming of convenience fast food stores that are selling energy dense foods high in trans fats,sugar ,salt and low density lipoproteins which contribute to high cholesterol levels .
These change in eating habits is not just an African problem but it is a global epidemic and health analysts are warning of an epidemic if we do not change our eating habits.The rise in the consumption of energy rich,protein dense foods in lieu of nutrient rich foods has affected about 2 Billion people globally who are affected by micronutrient deficiency.
WHO defines micronutrients as the “magic wands” that enable the body to produce enzymes,hormones and other substances that are essential for proper growth and development.
While emphasis has been placed on overnutrition and issues like obesity and the dangers of being overweight have been discussed extensively ,deficiencies in micronutrients have not because very few people understand them.This lack of information on the health risks associated with micronutrients has fuelled a narrative where we have focused more on maintaining healthy weight while losing focus on emphasising the need for a more informed approach to the health challenges we are facing.
The lack of micronutrients especially among growing children,pregnant and lactating mothers and the elderly has been associated with risks such as lack of resistance to infectious diseases,blindness,lethargy,reduced learning abilities,death during childbirth,and impaired physical and mental development in children.
The WHO classifies Vitamin A ,,Iodine and iron as the most important in term sof global public health and their deficiencies can cripple the affected populations.
Let us try to go through what the lack of these micronutrients results in and in our next article we will tackle how to ensure elimination of these deficiencies.
Vitamin A plays a starring role in vision,bone growth,reproduction,cell division and differentiation and in growing children and pregnant women these processes are essential for proper growth and development in children and healthy pregnancy outcomes in childbearing women.
Vitamin A also plays a very important role in the promotion of a healthy mucous lining of the respiratory,urinary and intestinal tracts which make it hard for bacteria to enter the body and cause infections.
Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and due to a weakened immune system as the body is more prone to infection individuals are more at risk of disease and even death from severe infections.
Iodine is needed by the human body for the production of the thyroid hormone ,the body needs the hormone to aid it in metabolism.
Iodine deficiency in pregnant or nursing mothers has been associated with miscarriages,preterm deliveries and congenital abnormalities in babies.
In children iodine deficiencies is associated with cretinism which is exhibited by children having stunted physical and mental growth .
The most common symptom of iodine deficiency in the body is a swelling at the front of the neck which we know as goitre that results from the overexertion of the thyroid gland.
Your whole body contains about 4 g of iron .Iron is an important micronutrient and its role is in the body processes that involve energy release .Iron is a component of the oxygen carrying blood compounds like haemoglobin which is found in the red blood cells and myoglobin which is found in muscle tissue.
In a World Health Organization report titled The Global Prevalence of Anaemia 2011,it was found lack of dietary iron which results in anemia was prevalent across all sectors of the global economy from low to middle to high income countries.
“Anemia, defined as a low blood hemoglobin concentration, has been shown to be a public health problem that affects low-, middle- and high-income countries and has significant and adverse health consequences”
Iron deficiency had adverse effects on the development of cognitive and motor functions and the result is fatigue,low productivity,in pregnancy it was seen in children born with a low birth weight and was also associated with maternal and perinatal deaths.
Zinc is involved in over 100 metabolic enzymes and specifically those that are needed for metabolism,cellular division and DNA and RNA synthesis and structure.
Zinc deficiencies are exhibited in a lack of appetite,retarded growth in children,poor bone growth,problems with male and female reproduction,poor skin,hair ,nails and a poor sense of smell and taste.
Micronutrient deficiency has become such a global public health issue that the World Health Organization has endorsed a policy plan which sees to address this issue by 2025.The plan focuses on maternal,infant and young children and it aims to :
1.achieve a 40% reduction in the number of children under-5 who are stunted;
2.achieve a 50% reduction of anaemia in women of reproductive age;
3.achieve a 30% reduction in low birth weight;
4.ensure that there is no increase in childhood overweight;
5.increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months up to at least 50%;
6.reduce and maintain childhood wasting to less than 5%.
Individuals raising children or those that want to take active charge of their health as well as those of their families,staff members need not wait for governments to implement policies that will tackle these micronutrient deficiecnes.By seeking information healthy lifestyle choices and making more well informed food choices s we can help reduce the risks associated with micronutrient deficiencies.
By tackling micronutrient deficiencies we also help reduce the crippling cost of public health as well as private health insurance costs that have been on the rise annually.
In our next post we will tackle how you can do this through making better and well informed lifestyle choices.