Food-based dietary guidelines for healthy eating launched  


December 14, 2016 By Hassan Gbassay Koroma

With the aim to promote food and nutrition in the country, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its partners, with sponsorship from the German Government, have yesterday launched the Sierra Leone Food-Base Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Eating.

The launching ceremony, which took place at the Miatta Conference Centre in Freetown, attracted Ministers, Members of Parliament, Heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and members of Civil Society.

Madam Nyabenyi Tipo, FAO’s Representative in Sierra Leone, said the concept of Food-based dietary guidelines came into being during the International Conference on Nutrition in 1992, promoted by FAO and World Health Organization.

She recalled that in that conference, a plan of action for nutrition called on governments to provide advice to the public through various means including dietary guidelines relevant for different age groups and lifestyles and appropriate for the country’s population.

“Sierra Leone undertook the exercise with technical support from FAO through a project called ‘Mainstreaming Food and Nutrition Security and the Right to Food into the Smallholder Commercialization Programme. Sierra Leone has joined more than 100 countries in the world that have already developed dietary guidelines and that in Africa, Sierra Leone was the sixth country to develop the guidelines and third in West Africa,” she said.

She said the guideline was unique, because it outlines balance diet in the Sierra Leone context, taking into account culturally acceptable, accessible, affordable and sustainable food ingredients.

She said the document was implemented in conjunction with the advocacy for the inclusion of the right to food in the revised constitution, which was already done and that it highlighted the political commitment in the country to the fundamental principle of right to food for all Sierra Leoneans without discrimination, adding that government’s commitment and assurance that the chapters on right to food in the revised constitution will sail through the review process to the final stage.

She said the launch of the document was also timely because date from the National Nutrition Survey, 2014 showed that for children under the age of five, the levels of stunting and underweight were 28.9% and 12.9% respectively.

She added the figures were above WHO minimum threshold, and that the report also indicated that obesity was an emerging health problem as 2.2% of the population was obese.

She disclosed that micronutrient deficiencies remain a concern and that the prevalence of anemia is 76.3 percent in children aged 6 to 59 months,70.6 percent in pregnant women, and 44.8 percent in non-pregnant women, and that the cases of non- communicable disease like diabetes, hypertension were on the rise.

To meet these deficiencies, nutrition should be a top consideration for food-not merely taste or convenience. Moreover, supplements such as vitamins for sleep could also be crucial in inducing a stable sleep cycle which is missing for most people, but is one of the most important things for a body to absorb maximum nourishment. A proper nutritional diet along with adequate deep sleep can help eliminate most health problems plaguing the country and the world today.

She said the document was a tool for nutrition education, because it was promoting diet diversification in a safe and sustainable manner with respect to biodiversity and protection of the environment, noting that it discouraged harmful cultural practices.

The United Nations Resident Coordinator to Sierra Leone Sunil Saigal, said the launch of the document came at a time when nutrition indicators for children under the age of five showed that stunting was at 28.8 percent, adding that one of four Sierra Leoneans was 12.9 percent underweight.

“At the same time, according to the most recent assessment, it is understood that 49.8 percent of all Sierra Leonean adults and children, face moderate or severe food insecurity. The rate of malnutrition in young children may be better understood,” he said.

He said the figures plus other statistics describing the state of food security and nutrition at both global and national levels were of concern, noting that the United Nations was engaged in a number of initiatives to improve the situation at different levels.

“Some of the principal initiatives include Sustainable Development Goals which form the central elements of the overarching global 2030 Agenda for sustainable development of the 17 goals adopted by the world community in 2015. The first goal was to end poverty in all its forms everywhere, the second goal was to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition for all people by 2030 but at least 12 of the 17 global goals were relevant to achieving the World Health Assembly targets on nutrition by 2030,” he said.

He said the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) was a global movement which involves 57 countries under the stewardship of the United Nations, adding that it was uniting governments, Civil Society, the UN donor, businesses and researchers in a collective effort to improve nutrition by working across a multitude of sectors.

He said the Sierra Leone Food-Based Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Eating was an important document for the promotion of food and nutrition security in the country and that the UN was pleased to have supported its development and strongly urged that the implementation of the guidelines becomes an urgent priority

In his keynote address, Vice President of Sierra Leone, Dr. Victor Bockarie Foh, said they have prioritised nutrition and food security as a flagship programme in their Agenda for Prosperity.

He said in addition to several useful ventures, the government was taking decisive steps not only in diversifying the food basket but ensuring that Sierra Leone attains food security in next few years.

“On 2nd July 2015, we launched the Food and Nutrition Implementation Plan in Freetown and we involved all stakeholders across the country to work with a common framework in promoting food and nutrition security,” he said.

He said the plan was one of the finest and that it presented a road map on how to attain food and nutrition security in the country.

“On 29th April 2016, for the very first time in the history of the country, we organised a Health and Nutrition Trade Fair that lasted for a week. Many information and education were provided. The public was given the opportunity to be aware of the relationship between infant and nutrition and it shows local measures in their effort to end malnutrition,” he disclosed.

He said the launching was a continuous effort of the government’s Agenda for Prosperity to end malnutrition, thus thanking the German Government for their financial support to the implementation of the process.

He said since 2007, President Ernest Bai Koroma has been committed to end malnutrition and promote nutrition and food security in the country; hence he signed up to the SUN Secretariat and placed it under the Office of the Vice President.

He such the above measure was taken with the aim of underscoring high level of commitment in the implementation of the process.

He said they have found out that children who lack nutritious food during their one thousand days were more likely to be stunted and 28.8 percent of them were reported to be stunted.