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‘Children eat for development and growth while adults eat for survival’

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
07 January 2023   |   6:22 pm
Ifeyinwa Omesiete is a certified Pediatric nutritionist. She is on a mission to save Africa’s children from malnourishment and hunger. She obtained her B. Sc in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Minnesota in the United States of America and has about over five years of cognate interdisciplinary experience that cuts across Africa and North…

Ifeyinwa Omesiete is a certified Pediatric nutritionist. She is on a mission to save Africa’s children from malnourishment and hunger. She obtained her B. Sc in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Minnesota in the United States of America and has about over five years of cognate interdisciplinary experience that cuts across Africa and North America. She is the co-founder of the Nutrition4Kids Lagos, where she is helping to provide effective feeding techniques and assisting parents with curial information for proper child development. Omesiete is also a certified child psychology enthusiast with a certificate from CAPA International Education in London. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her passion for ensuring that children are fed healthy.

You are an advocate for child nutrition, how did you find this passion?

To be honest, I think this profession chose me. I had intentions of becoming a pediatrician before I went to college. In my third year, I realised that I was not cut out for medical school and its requirements. However, I still wanted to work in a clinical setting so I probed further. I love food and the variety that it offers and I also love working with children because I believe to decrease the prevalence of chronic diseases, we have to preserve the lives of next generation. If you put the two together – Clinical Nutrition was the perfect fit. I found a huge gap between what clinical nutrition is for children and what was being practiced. I wanted to fill that gap and that when the Kid Nutritionist brand was born.

As a certified expert nutritionist, what do you consider key in children nutrition?

For me, it is mindset, creativity and simplicity. Having the right mindset about food and its power to heal and restore is so key, especially for children. You see, children eat for development and growth while adults eat for survival. So every meal choice for them is either delaying their progress or assisting it. The right mindset about the powerful role food plays goes a long way. When I think of creativity I think of a child full of energy, curiosity and always changing their minds. Being creative with the way we serve them food helps in ensuring they are always glued and encouraged to eat better. I tell my patients that one kind of food can be prepared 10 ways; you just have to know how. Unfortunately, there is not enough data on the Nigerian child compared to other parts of the world. My job is to translate the data of other countries and make it relatable to the average Nigerian. This is very important because with data collation and interpretation, a lot of families and children would not know how blessed Nigeria is in terms of its food and their medicinal abilities. The simpler information is the more people understand, the easier it is to implement in their own lives.

You are on a mission to save Africa’s children from malnutrition and hunger, how are you achieving this?

During my undergraduate degree, I conducted a research study that examined the effects of vegetable consumption on the academic performance of 200 toddlers. The study showed that toddlers who had been exposed to vegetables at home ate more and performed better in school. The study also showed that toddlers were likely to eat more vegetables when sharing a meal with their peers. These findings confirmed my desire to return home to Nigeria and educate parents on practical ways to encourage healthy eating in children. In 2019, I co-founded the first pediatric Nutrition Challenge in Nigeria. This quarterly online programme provides materials in different learning styles (visual, audio, written and practical) that reorients the minds of parents on the importance of feeding children healthy homemade meals. One of the goals of the Challenge is to push parents to cook and serve different foods from all over Nigeria (from a meal plan I created) regardless of their career path, religion, socio-economic status or ethnic background. This programme is unique because the meals are designed to meet the recommended dietary needs of children.

What are some of the prevalent cases or issues around child nutrition that you have handled?

I think every year this changes. In 2018, I found myself handling patients who were underweight and malnourished, while over time it was the complete opposite. About 40 per cent of my workload was obese children within the ages of three to 17 years that were morbidly obese and had comorbidities like hypertension and diabetes. Unfortunately, this correlates heavily with the trend of ‘weight gain’ formulas, foods and concoctions aimed at parents who want their children to remain chubby to show affluence or lack of suffering. Also, I had a surge of patients with developmental disorders like autism, speech delays and so on. Alarming but not shocking as the world we know is definitely not as safe as it used to be when we were kids.

What activities are you involved in to achieve your goal?

I believe what helps me achieve my goal the most is my network and my collaborations. I have been able to impact over 17,000 people through my social media platform, my work in hospitals across Lagos and my two businesses. My second business Nutrition4kidsng leverages a lot from my network of businesses in Nigeria that caters specifically to the dietary needs of children. What makes this network unique is the fact that all of their raw materials are natural and locally sourced in Nigeria; thus making their products accessible and affordable. For instance, a middle-class parent sees a post of mine on Instagram discussing how cow’s milk is not the only source of calcium. The parent connects with the post and is interested in other sources of calcium but doesn’t know where to get them. Using my network, I am able to refer the parent to a business that provides natural foods containing adequate amounts of calcium that are ideal for their child’s age. Nutrition4kidsng serves as web platform that connects regulated child-focused businesses with their customers without the burden of the middleman or exorbitant fees, which inflate the cost of their products.

In your experience working with mums, what challenges have you encountered?

I think the biggest challenge is consistency. A lot of families have both parents working and spending less time at home. A lot of mothers realised the lapses they had when it came to raising healthy children. However, even with the realisation, so many are not able to stay consistent. They give up too easily and struggle with understanding that being a parent is a lot of work and the work must be done. Understanding this has made me change my approach with how I counsel my patients. I spend more time following up, teaching and reminding parents of their end goal. I also ensure I provide them with all the tools and resources they need so they find no reasons to give up so easily.

What advice do you have for young women like you on pursuing their dreams and being a better version of themselves?

Be consistent with integrity. What I mean by this is know your truth and stick with it. The world we live in today has a lot of people being on the fence and falling whichever way the wind blows. To truly build a valuable brand that people can trust you must prove you are competent, consistent and full of integrity. Always speak the truth and state the fact regardless if it is popular opinion or not. Another advice I would give is know your craft and know where your limits lie. If I could go back in time I would have spent more time developing my skills rather than overwhelming myself with work and self-development at the same time. Don’t get me wrong; I love what I do and I am always attending trainings and researching but if you don’t spend time in filling your cup, you will find yourself in a vicious cycle of pouring from an empty place often.