Why youth should be agents for improved nutrition

In sub-Saharan Africa, malnutrition is severe, with many challenges slowing improvement. /Photo by Care Africa

Last week, youth from different districts across the country were trained on capacity building in nutrition.

The training, which was organised by Global Financing Facility (GFF), Rwanda Civil Society Coalition, in partnership with Sun Alliance—a coalition of civil society organisations under the Scaling up Nutrition—aimed to increase young people’s knowledge on nutrition and advocacy so that they can act as advocates back in their communities.

 

Topics covered included; nutrition briefs on stunting, wasting, over nutrition, anaemia, the importance of good nutrition for adolescents and the entire community among other issues.

 

Venuste Muhamyankaka, Executive Director of SUN Alliance Rwanda, says they targeted the youth as the largest segment of the population with a critical growth period.

 

He notes that it’s at this stage that growth is critical yet nutrient needs are compromised by various factors.

On top of improving their health, Muhamyankaka believes that youth champions will mobilise the community and advocate for improved nutrition and health for peer adolescents.

According to Dr Florence Sibomana, a medical doctor and a member of Global Youth Leaders for Nutrition, changing young people’s behaviour towards their own lifestyles enables them to impact the community as well.

She adds that apart from nutrition skills and knowledge, young people were enlightened on how nutrition is cross-cutting with other issues like gender, education, economy of the country, hygiene and adolescent sexual reproductive health, among other issues.

Through the training, Dr Sibomana says they expect to retain a network of young people that will act as ambassadors on different nutrition advocacies and help drive the nutrition agenda.

“We are expecting to have partners and stakeholders in the districts that may understand the voice of young people so that they can as well be included in the decision-making process when it comes to health and nutrition.”

She says they believe young people are capable and have the power to drive this change, and so want them to be part of the change the country wants to see.

Nutrition for development 

Available statistics show that 38 per cent of children under five in Rwanda are stunted, which is an irreversible form of malnutrition.

Dr Sibomana says this is a huge burden to the country, as it affects the population’s competency for development. 

She emphasises that since nutrition is a cross-cutting issue, young people should access good nutrition at a very young age as this can aid them in impacting other areas of development.

“Nutrition is the main foundation when it comes to the development of the country. This is because if one has good nutrition at a tender age, they can have a well-developed brain and body that will help them perform well in all areas,” she says.

“I think if we start investing in nutrition, it will help the population understand its importance, and therefore we will have a healthy nation in the future,” she adds.

Why focus on adolescence?

Yvette Nkurunziza, a fourth-year medical student at University of Rwanda College of Medicine and Health Sciences, notes that taking good care of yourself at an early stage keeps you off from many illnesses.

She says poor nutrition can contribute to stress, tiredness, and can affect the capacity to work as young people.

“Over time, it can contribute to the risk of developing some illnesses and other health problems such as: being overweight or obese, hypertension, diabetes to name but a few,” she says.

During the adolescent stage, Private Kamanzi, a nutritionist at Amazon Nutrition Cabinet in Kigali, says children are prone to various forms of malnutrition such as, undernutrition and obesity.

He says if young people are aware of what to eat while at a young stage, it will help them become great parents who can positively impact the future generation.

He says adolescent nutrition as an issue has been left out when it comes to the development plan of the country yet it’s a very crucial part to be involved.

“This is crucial because it is a critical time for development of the human being, adolescence is a stage that connects a person from childhood to adulthood stage.”

For this reason, Kamanzi says, there is a need to have a well-nourished adolescent so that the cycle of malnutrition is broken and its consequences from one generation to another.

Kamanzi says when an adolescent has been malnourished, the impact of this reaches right into their adult stage.

“If one is malnourished during the adolescent period, it will be very easy for them to develop chronic diseases at later stages. These chronic illnesses include diabetes, hypertension, cancers among others,” he says.

He notes that all these diseases adult people often develop are interconnected to poor nutrition during the adolescent stage.

Another issue, Kamanzi says, is the case of infertility in mothers and even fathers in adulthood, explaining that these are also closely related to what one consumed while in their early years.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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