Opinion and Analysis
New nutrition rule will boost population’s health
Posted Monday, July 9 2012 at 21:52
For many families struggling to make ends meet getting enough food, leave alone a balanced diet, is a daily challenge. Their meagre incomes hardly go round the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing, relegating quality meals to the periphery.
For years, this has come to the forefront of the national agenda through malnutrition, especially among children and the elderly, and the myriad conditions caused by improper diet.
Most of the curative work on the ailments has been left to relief agencies like Unicef and the World Food Programme, whose mandate it is to feed the vulnerable be it because of drought or civil strife.
Even these organisations have been overwhelmed because while staples are readily available when the price is right, accompaniments are another proposition.
This has created a big industry for food supplements whose market is now under threat following a government initiative to enhance the nutritional value of the most consumed items like maize and wheat flour and even milk.
The foodstuffs will henceforth be required to have significant levels of Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12 as well as minerals iron, folate and Zinc.
This initiative is quite a healthy development. For one it will improve the overall health of the population, reducing the expenditure on treating ailments arising from vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the body.
With malnutrition a leading cause of stunted growth in children, limiting their ability to attend school the fortified foods will have a wider positive social impact than can be expressed by just looking at numbers. For consumers, however, there is a small price to pay.
The foodstuffs are likely to cost more on the shelf, a prospect that nutritionists say should not distract from the overall benefits of more ingredients. Ministry of Public Health records show that nutritional diseases are common at public hospitals and are expensive to treat. Globally, fortification is accepted as a way of dealing with nutritional diseases such as marasmus.
To the extent that the taxpayer will save billions of shillings on treating such illnesses the new benchmarks by the Kenya Bureau of Standards make sense.
At the family level, it will come as a little consolation to know that when there is no mboga, fruits or meat the ugali or chapati is still a whole diet.
It will also reduce the prescription by doctors for special diets, which are largely meant to ensure the patients take more of a previously neglected food group.
In short, the slight mark up in the prices of the commodities will be more than offset by the long-term personal and social benefits of having the food enhanced.