Let me start by applauding the Federal Government’s ‘One Meal A Day’ programme for pupils. This programme featured prominently during APC’s election campaign and it is good to know that the government intends to honour that promise.
Providing meals for pupils puts Nigeria in the same league with industrialised countries that have identified social welfare as a necessary tool for economic development.
However, the recent MOU signed by the FG with NASCO to feed 30 million pupils special biscuits is a very bad idea from a nutritional point of view.
Large scale social welfare is uncharted territory for the FG so they can be excused if they do not get it right the first time. This is the time for them to return to the drawing board and come up with better alternatives.
Senator Ben Bruce has rightly pointed out that prioritising feeding pupils biscuits over paying teachers salary is not the way to improve the standard of education in Nigeria.
This write-up is looking at the decision from a nutritional point of view.
Firstly, will parents be provided with the nutritional information on what their children are eating?
Secondly, how many healthcare professionals like doctors and dieticians were consulted before this MOU was signed?
According to the Minister of Science and Technology, Mr. Ogbonnaya Onu, who represented the government at the signing ceremony in Abuja, the MoU was necessary in order to advance the implementation process of government desire to enhance a healthy development of children through the programme.
The minister said further that the high nutrient density biscuits were one of the products of Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), Lagos, which would meet at least one- third recommended dietary allowance of Pupils. One-third, what about the remaining two-thirds? There are other alternatives like fruits and vegetable that will provide more than half of the children’s recommended dietary allowance.
The government’s desire to enhance a healthy development of children through the programme should be questioned if feeding children biscuits is the best idea they can come up with.
Let us have a look at what biscuit contains and the nutritional value of these substances:
Sugar: This is one of the most important ingredients in biscuit. Sugar will damage children’s teeth and that is just the beginning. Excessive consumption of sugar also leads to the development of Diabetes type 2 and other obesity related illnesses like cancer, high blood pressure and hypertension later in life. Some of these pupils may have undiagnosed Diabetes type 1, which is more serious than Diabetes type 1, and consuming biscuits every day will worsen the situation. The other alternative to sugar is aspartame and nutritionally it’s even worse than sugar.
Hydrogenated oils They may seem harmless enough, but these hydrogenated oils mean that they contain the most dangerous kind of fats- Trans fat. Trans fat is known to increase bad cholesterol and decrease good cholesterol. They also increase chances of diabetes and heart disease later in life.
Wheat Flour: the wheat flour biscuit is made of is generally refined wheat flour. Eating refined wheat flour is not `recommended because during processing, the brown cover of the wheat is removed that contains essential vitamins and also the necessary fiber that supplements the process of digestion and supports weight loss.
Biscuit is also high in calories and falls under the category of foods with high GI (Glyceamic Index), which means children feel full immediately after eating it due to the rapid release of energy but less than an hour later they’re hungry again because they have used up all the energy from the biscuit.
Biscuit is also not a good source of fibre and children need fibre. Even with the fiber that is added in the biscuits, that content is much lower than the daily requirement for fiber.
Instead of feeding children with biscuits the FG should invest in agriculture by encouraging farmers to grow fruits and vegetable to feed these children with. This will not only be a source of income for these local farmers but will also provide the children with better nutrition.