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World Milk Day: Benefits of milk in the diet of children in Nigeria

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Every child deserves access to healthy, affordable and quality nutrition. Nutrition has been proven to be an important factor for continuous growth and cognitive development in children.

Taking a look at the diets of Nigerian children after the complementary feeding period, most children are integrated into the family menu. So the child eats what every one is eating at home.

Over time, the trend of family menu in Nigeria has evolved. This is influenced by a lot of factors across the country. Factors ranging from foods available in season to how much time is available to make them, also how convienent it is to prepare as the pace of life seems to have increased in recent times. All these influence the kind of diets our children get. 

Studies and surveys have shown that the diets of young Nigerian children are majorly plant-based, and this leaves some gaps in nutrient supply as a child should get a balanced diet at every mealtime. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 45% of child deaths is associated with undernutrition. Now, what is undernutrition? It simply means insufficient intake of nutrients and energy to meet an individual’s needs to maintain good health.

There are four broad sub-forms of undernutrition – wasting, stunting, underweight, and deficiencies in vitamins and minerals otherwise called micronutrient deficiency. Undernutrition is a form of malnutrition. 

The WHO Director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, Dr. Francesco Branca, once said in an article in 2017 that malnutrition is more than hunger and I couldn’t agree more. This means that feeding and meals shouldn’t just be to fill the stomach, it must be aimed at meeting nutritional needs for proper growth and development.

The Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2018 revealed that stunting amongst children under 5 years of age in Nigeria is at 37% and has remained the largest burden of malnutrition, with many states in the North recording prevalence above 40%.  

According to Child Nutrition Expert, Lilian Elue, the indices for other parameters like underweight and micronutrient deficiencies also indicate that there is a serious need to pay close attention to what our Nigerian children are feeding on if we want their nutritional outcomes to be different. 

This is crucial because in these formative years of life in children, deficiencies in nutrients can lead to almost permanent developmental damage and even death. What do we then do to move from our current reality to our desired outcome?

THE GOODNESS OF MILK
Milk is a nutrient-dense food produced by mammals for the nourishment of their young. It is nature’s provision for nutrition for the young, and a look at the content of milk shows a wide range of both macro and micro-nutrients that support growth and development in children.

A combination of nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, fats, calcium, vitamins and micronutrients like Zinc, iodine and  magnesium are in rich supply in milk, and we call this the goodness of milk. Studies have also shown milk provides tremendous health benefits for optimal growth and overall good health at all stages of life. 

Breast milk is the best for babies. Rich in all essential nutrients including immunological factors, it provides complete nutrition for children to achieve their highest potential in physical growth and brain development.

The World Health Organization recommends that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life after which appropriate complementary feeding should be commenced while breastfeeding is continued up till at least two years.  Afterwards, it’s important that milk remains a vital part of a child’s diet till adolescence and beyond.

The essence of nutrition especially in children is to support survival, growth, development, protection from illnesses and diseases amongst others. To achieve this, the amount of nutrients required at each stage of life is adviced by relevant authorities. This is called the Recommended Daily Allowance of nutrients(RDA). 

A well-balanced growing-up milk, tailored specifically to their nutritional requirements, can serve as a valuable addition to their daily diet  by providing substantial amounts of daily-required (essential) nutrients including DHA, an essential fatty acid critical for brain development.

Peak 456 Growing-up milk with DHA is specially formulated in accordance with internationally recognised RDA guidelines to help bridge the gap between the RDA and actual intake of key nutrients often lacking in the diet of children aged 4-6 years. 

Every year since 2001, June 1, has been set aside by The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations to recognize the importance of Milk as a global food. The day provides the opportunity to focus attention on milk and raise  awareness on dairy as part of a healthy diet.

As we celebrate the World Milk Day this year, we are bringing the focus home to the state of our Nigerian children and the obvious deficit in key nutrients in their diets. This is a matter of concern not just for the individual parents but for every stakeholder in the country.

As earlier stated, we can utilize the goodness of milk and all the numerous nutrients it supplies as a nutritional bridge in the diets of our young children to close the  protein and  micronutrient gaps. As we celebrate World Milk Day, we raise our glasses to the realization that we can explore the nutrient goldmine of  milk to save the Nigerian child.

That in addition to the yummy taste of milk, we can use its nutrient richness as a safety net in the diets of the Nigerian Child. As we celebrate, we raise our glasses to the fact that with the inclusion of milk in the diets of our children, we can overcome the brunt of the menace of malnutrition as a nation. 


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