According to the WHO, Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and nutrients. The term malnutrition can be used based on an individual falling into one of the categories of conditions below:
Undernutrition, which occurs when the body does not get enough food. It can lead to delayed growth, low weight, or wasting;
Micronutrient-related malnutrition, which includes a lack of important micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) or micronutrient excess; and
Overweight, obese, and diet-related may lead to non-communicable diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers).
The causes of malnutrition can be based on mental health problems like depression, social and mobility problems like financial problems, and digestive disorders.
MALNUTRITION IN GHANA
Ghana is in progress toward meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, the country is still battling with some of the goals like No Poverty, Zero Hunger, and Good Health and Wellbeing under which Malnutrition falls. Aside from these mentioned causes above, other contributing factors increase malnutrition in Ghana.
The location of some villages with little infrastructure in remote and mountainous places makes accessibility of transport difficult. Due to the challenge faced by such communities, the food supply and selection are limited due to the expense of importing food to these isolated locations. Nutritional intake in these communities comes from what is grown, hunted, or gathered by the residents making their feeding patterns one way. In some remote areas that are agriculturally based, food security is dependent on uncontrollable variables such as monsoon or drought. The personal economic resources in times of situations are reallocated from food purchase to immediate necessities which can result in a prolonged period of hunger and nutrient deficiencies. It has been established that a prolonged drought or poor harvest season in a rural community can result in variable negative growth patterns of both children and adults which results in malnutrition.
In some homes, females might have not received the nutritional support because they have the added disadvantage of being responsible for the preparation of foods which can include high caloric consumption activities like water or fuel collecting. In such cases, most of them want to ensure that “the man of the house” or other male figures in the house have eaten to satisfaction before if there is enough left, the females would have something to eat. This can result in long-term sequelae such as stunting, a marker of chronic malnutrition which is defined as a form of growth failure that causes both physical and cognitive delays in growth and development. For example, inequitable distribution of food between genders within households affects females the most, and based on data collected, women and girls are often demonstrated by a ‘height-for-age Z score < -2, which has been associated with decreased cognitive development and possible future economic productivity deficit.
Among the regions of greatest concern, which include the Northern sector of Ghana, most of the residents and natives have quite a large number of individuals living in one house and about 18% of households are considered food insecure. Food insecurity is linked to the inability of households to produce sufficient quantities of staples to meet their food needs, due to poor soil quality, unfavorable weather conditions like harmattan, constrained access to inputs, and limited financial resources to expand production. This, therefore, affects their eating patterns and the quantity served per person. For example, the northern sector is found within savanna vegetation which consists mainly of dry land with shrubs, grasses, and a few trees. The food pattern of people in such areas are mostly grains and protein from livestock with little or no supply of vegetables and fruits for vitamins making most of them acquire micro-nutrient malnutrition.
If not controlled malnutrition can lead to stunting and adverse health problems. Many factors have been put in place to reduce malnutrition, some of which are listed below.
Ghana’s Cross-Sectoral Planning Group, a platform under the National Development Planning Commission, is working to introduce a nutrition baseline and identify trends in nutrition financing. It played an active role in the development of the 2013 National Nutrition Policy, which seeks to reposition nutrition as a cross-cutting issue, facilitate integration and mainstreaming of nutrition into all national development efforts, provide a framework for nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive services and interventions, guide the implementation of high-impact interventions, and strengthen sectoral capacity for the effective delivery of these interventions to even the remotest villages.
In 2017, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture launched “Planting for Food and Jobs,” to contribute to the modernization of the agricultural sector, leading to the structural transformation of the national economy through food security, employment opportunities, and reduced poverty. It focuses on ensuring immediate and adequate availability of crops in Ghana through improved productivity creating general awareness among the public to farm available land or establishing backyard gardens to grow vegetables or grains to reduce the risk of malnutrition.
There is also the Ghana School Feeding Programme, supervised by the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection. It was started in 2005 to meet the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme and Millennium Development Goal requirements and targets. As of 2016, program coverage was estimated to reach 2 million children, who benefit from daily, hot, nutritious meals at school. Meals are prepared from locally-grown food and efforts are made to spend 80 percent of the costs locally to improve the economic sector.
A framework known as “The Coordinated Program for Economic and Social Development Policies 2017–2024 has been developed to ensure food security and promote good nutrition as part of its aims. The interventions to be implemented include: instituting measures to prevent food losses; promoting the production and utilization of locally grown and nutrient-rich foods; strengthening early warning and emergency preparedness systems; developing and implementing a nutrition strategy that adopts a life-cycle approach to reduce malnutrition at all levels; reviewing and scaling up the Regenerative Health and Nutrition Program; eliminating child and adult overweight and obesity; and promoting research and development in food and nutrition security.