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How to deal with malnutrition during COVID-19 pandemic

By Umar Nsubuga

Added 27th May 2020 04:33 PM

“We usually eat sparingly to leave some food that we eat for supper. The lockdown has forced us to cook one main meal that sustains us all day long, unlike before when we could eat three times a day,” she said.

How to deal with malnutrition during COVID-19 pandemic

Children in a refugee settlement in Adjumani eating, a number of cases of malnutrition have been registered in the refugee camps. Photos by Umar Nsubuga

“We usually eat sparingly to leave some food that we eat for supper. The lockdown has forced us to cook one main meal that sustains us all day long, unlike before when we could eat three times a day,” she said.

NUTRITION | COVID-19

Esther Kibalama, a resident of Lwadda A in Matugga village, Wakiso district says during this lockdown as a family, they have late breakfast and late lunch in their home. 


"We usually eat sparingly to leave some food that we eat for supper. The lockdown has forced us to cook one main meal that sustains us all day long, unlike before when we could eat three times a day," she said.

Kabalama said, because of the lockdown, even her four children eat one meal, although eating a healthy diet is very important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the World Health Organisation, healthy diets are important for supporting immune systems.

Good nutrition can also reduce the likelihood of developing other health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.

 ylvia abirye a mother of one preparing juice for her son Sylvia Babirye, a mother of one preparing juice for her son

 
For babies, WHO states that a healthy diet means exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months, with the introduction of nutritious and safe foods to complement breastmilk from age months to two years and beyond.

For young children, a healthy and balanced diet is essential for growth and development. For older people, it can help to ensure healthier and more active lives.

The lockdown that has since confined the majority of Ugandans at home has affected people in all sorts of ways including their routine eating schedules with some being forced to skip certain meals.

Sharon Naluwende, a nutritionist at Mulago Hospital says it is important to eat a varied diet comprising of foods from all of the food groups (carbohydrates or energy-giving foods; proteins or bodybuilding foods; vitamins and minerals or protective foods; foods containing fibre or roughage and plenty of water to keep the body hydrated and yes, fats and oils to provide essential fatty acids).

She, however, emphasises the importance of regular exercise to maintain body fitness and strength.

She refers to the food guide pyramid, which recommends eating plenty of bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and cereals — going for the whole grain varieties whenever you can. Ugandan staples such as maize, millet, matooke, cassava belong here.

Plenty of fruit and vegetables, some milk, cheese and yoghurt or other dairy products, some meat, poultry, eggs, beans and nuts, and a very small amount of fats and oils make for good nutrition.

Haspha Nassolo, a senior nursing officer at Joint Clinic Research Centre (JCRC) discourages foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt. "They should be eaten in very small amounts.

The biggest concern in the past was under-nutrition, a situation where the body does not get enough nutrients. It is most evident among children seeing that they are rapidly growing and therefore have high nutrient requirements.

It is characterized by emaciated bodies and ‘old man' faces (marasmus) or blotted stomachs and feet, as well as weak, sparse, brown hair (kwashiorkor).

ruits are nutritious  Fruits are nutritious

 
"Because malnutrition is mainly caused by an imbalance between nutrient requirements and intake, it is generally prevented and treated by balancing the two. Knowledge, discipline and regular access to a variety of nutritious foods are necessary," Nassolo says.

She, however, explains that while under-nutrition remains a major challenge, Ugandans are faced with increasing levels of over-nutrition.

Over-nutrition is a condition that occurs when food and nutrient intake exceeds body requirements, resulting in overweight, obesity and subsequently diet-related Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart diseases.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over-nutrition and diet-related NCDs have reached epidemic proportions. Unfortunately, the rate is fastest in developing countries and among the growing middle-class segment.

Some of the obstacles to achieving ideal nutrition, as cited by WHO are urbanisation and changing lifestyles, including changing from traditional diets to 'Western diets' including fast foods, which tend to be higher in fat, sugar and salt. They have increasingly sedentary lifestyles with little physical exercise.

Preserved foods can be nutritious

Preserved foods can be nutritious if a deliberate effort is made to preserve and enhance their nutritional quality, according to Naluwende.

Processed foods that meet the current urban consumer requirement must: be nutritious, convenient, tasty, affordable and readily available.

Some of these products include fruit and vegetable juices; quick-cooking flours for porridges, meal and sauces; ready-to-eat meat and fish products; nutrient-enhanced cookies, breakfast cereals and other snacks.

Others are soy milk, meat and sausages; traditional brews such as ajon, kwete and "mulondo' and even grain amaranth ‘dodo' seed products acclaimed as a nutrient powerhouse and ‘miracle food'!

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