Why Nigerian children are stunted

2012-02-22
NATIONAL MIRROR Newspaper- Tobore Ovuorie

It was 1pm and the school bells had started ringing again, indicating the close of school hours. Just like in the mornings and afternoons of the past two weeks, pupils of Arowosegbe, Irepodun and Alapere primary schools all in Ketu filed out to do the usual: buy “condense”, improvised powdered milk and all sorts of junks! For over two weeks, this reporter stalked pupils of these three schools in the morning before they resumed classes and in the afternoon after school hours. Throughout the period, these kids, as early as 7.30am, patronized road side vendors who sell junks like “kulikuli”, “taunfili”, “ekonobuwan”, condense”, aadun”.

They even bought powdered milk in transparent nylon bags to lick as their breakfast! Most of them have the same eating habits both time of the day. They feed on varieties of junks.
National Mirror’s investigations, however, revealed these junks are their main meals as they are barely fed at home.

Anuola Ojo, a 12-year-old primary four student of Arowosegbe Primary School disclosed to National Mirror that her mother gives her N100 everyday, which covers all three meals for the day. According to her, the mum leaves the house quite early for Eko-Idumota where she trades, in order to beat the Lagos traffic and returns late at night.

In the morning, Anu who can barely speak English revealed in Yoruba that she buys “taunfili” and “milik inu nylon” (milk in transparent nylon bags) for N10 each. In the afternoon after school, she buys N20 “condense” while for dinner, it is always N20 rice and N10 “makaro” (spaghetti).

She saves the N30 balance in her secret money box for the rainy days in order to have something to fall back on when her parents resume their cold war. Anu doesn’t look her 12 years; she can conveniently pass for a six-year-old kid.

Boluwatife, Omobolalne, Yusufu, Monsuratu and Jelilli- all pupils of Irepodun and Alapere primary schools are not different from Anu. In the morning, Bolu’s mother gives him N20 to buy rice and “makaro”. For lunch, it is always N20 “ejadindin” (fried fish). He eats this while drinking garri ijebu which is always available at home. When there is no garri at home, he is given N10 to get some for soaking alongside his N20 “ejadindin”. No other variety of gari is acceptable but gari ijebu. For dinner, he is given N20 again to buy rice and “makaro”.

The rest kids share similar stories, but the amount they are usually given do not exceed N30 per meal, except Jelili whose parents spice up his feeding routine by giving him an empty plate to buy N30 worth of his school’s (Arowosegbe) meal. When asked what kind of food he eats at school, the 13-year-old primary three student who also couldn’t express himself in English could only remember he eats rice and beans on different days.

National Mirror, however, paid the three schools a visit but only the Assistant Head Mistress of Arowosegbe was available on February 16th, this year.
According to the Assistant Head Mistress Arowosegbe Primary School, Mrs. Ogunjoke, the school has a feeding programme for the pupils. There are food vendors employed by the local government- Agboyi Ketu Local Government where the schools are located. These vendors sell food to the kids and there are also fruits vendors who play same roles in the school.

Ogunjoke further disclosed that beans and dodo (fried plantain) are sold on Mondays; jollof rice on Tuesdays, portage on Wednesdays; rice and beans on Thursdays and rice and Egusi soup with vegetables on Fridays.

“With as little as N20, students do buy whatever food they want. They even buy fruits for as cheap as N10”.

“The local government does not only employ the food vendors, they also come to the school to inspect the quality of the foods being sold and we (officials of the school) also do same” she added.

But when this reporter was about leaving the school, right there within the school premises she saw a woman selling “condense”, while the students pushed each other to get some. Curiously, this reporter bought the two varieties of the “condense” being sold. One goes for N20 and the other N10.

The N20 worth drink was quite sugary, but with a mild taste of yoghurt, while the second was pure sugar, colouring and ice block. After tasting both in order to share in the experience of the pupils, this reporter had runny stomach for the next two days!

National Mirror can, however, authoritatively tell that the junks children are fed with also depend on the societal class of their parents. For instance, pupils at the private schools located on the same street with the earlier mentioned three schools do not patronise these roadside junk meal vendors. The latter have a different feeding schedule from those in public schools.
National Mirror’s investigations also revealed that Comforter Nursery, Primary and College- Group of Schools, located few buildings away from Arowosegbe, has its own school meal plan, but it is embedded in the fees of the students.

Mrs. Umukoro, a parent who has four children in the school told National Mirror that “my children eat the school food for it is part of their school fees. They are given foods like yam and stew, plantain and rice mixed with fruits, but my kids complain everyday that the ration they are given is too small. They go hungry no sooner than they have eaten”.
For breakfast, she gives them noodles mixed with egg, while their lunch at school determines what they have for dinner.

The variety of junks also differs in high brow areas such as Anthony Village, Ikeja GRA and its environs, as well as other parts of Lagos where only the rich live. National Mirror’s interactions with kids living in these areas, as well as schooling there, revealed that most of them have their breakfasts at popular eateries. When they are unable to go there, their drivers or housemaids go there to purchase the foods.

They often have shawarmah, meat pies, beef pies, burgers and juices for breakfast. For lunch, most of them prefer meals from fast food joints though some of their schools run their own feeding programmes. A common trend among all the kids spoken with in these areas is that they all have either rice or spaghetti for dinner! Consultant Paediatrician/Managing Director, Outreach Children’s Hospital, Festac, Dr. Efunbo Dosekun, believes this unhealthy feeding pattern is responsible for the widespread cases of stunted growth among Nigerian children.

According to Dr. Dosekun, kids from economically-deprived homes are mostly affected, while those from the upper class battle with obesity. The latter are bigger than their ages not because they feed well, but because they eat cholesterol-loaded junks.

“Definitely, this in turn tells in their intellectual capacity and immunity to ailments. We certainly cannot expect a child who is loaded with carbohydrates everyday of the week and at such ridiculous ration such as N20 rice to be healthy and grow well. If children are well fed, their immunity will be boosted and will fall ill less often” she said.

Mrs. Doris Aniemiena, a Nutritionist and Dietician at Ace Medical Clinic, Otta agrees that children, like adults are involved in the junk meal cycle. According to her, children are affected by what she called ‘rice and junk syndrome’ because mothers these days are fond of giving their children N20 to buy rice at any given time of the day.
Noting that Nigeria is really blessed with different foods and vegetables, the dietician beamed the flashlight on mothers, whom she stated “should always have a planned meal menu which should cut across all food nutrients”.

“Mothers should have diet plans in mind and on their shopping lists before going to the market and prepare as many different vegetables as possible, notwithstanding what part of the country they are from. These do not cost a fortune compared to how much is to be spent on hospital bills. They (mothers) must learn to go to the kitchen more and cook nutritious meals for their children, not just rice simply because it comes handy”, Aniemiena advised.

 

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