UCU academics join fight against malnutrition
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2022/10/ucu-academics-join-fight-against-malnutrition/
By Vanessa Kyalimpa
Malnutrition is an endemic challenge that remains largely hidden in Uganda. Many men, women and children suffering from malnutrition are not aware of their condition because of the lack of a regular assessment on the population.
The World Health Organization defines malnutrition as deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients. According to the 2018 Uganda National Demographic and Health Survey, 33 percent of children under the age of five years are stunted (have low height-for-age), while 4 percent are acutely malnourished or wasted (have low weight-for-height).
Many people are aware malnutrition exists, but few know how to combat it. They know about the need to keep a balanced diet, but few practice it.
Elizabeth Kongai, a student at Uganda Christian University (UCU), says she enjoys meals consisting of matooke, posho, rice, beans, and groundnut stew. However, “my favorite food is rice and beans and, I would not mind eating that all the time.”
Dr. Kashub Stephen Tumwesigye, the head of the UCU Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, says many people focus more on cravings than proper nutrition. He says not many people are aware of the nutrients contained in the foods they have at their disposal.
According to Tumwesigye, a lot of work and research has been done to address the issue of malnutrition, but the interventions are still limited, making the preparation of diets and food without the knowledge that comes from research.
The late Dr. Kashub Stephen Tumwesigye describes a brief purpose of the lab
Tumwesigye, however, does not think that as an academic, he and his colleagues should just fold their arms and complain about the inadequacies.
“So, the department, through its laboratory, will help in producing information that will help the community to prepare diets that are more nutritious,” he emphasized.
In the laboratory, the scientists will be able to use the equipment to evaluate food nutrients and measure the amount of micronutrients, vitamins, fats, sugar and flavour profiles in food, which they will then share with the people.
Jackeline Wesigye, one of the technicians in the laboratory, says: “Proper nutrition is key, especially for the children, because their brains and bodies are still developing, so being able to determine the composition of the different foods helps us enable parents to know what to feed their children on, in order to have a proper growth.”
The department also is devoting energies to supporting student initiatives that explore healthy food options. Some of the initiatives include laboratory projects, where students dry bananas to form matooke powder, which is an alternative to wheat; replacing eggs with chia for making doughnuts and replacing pectin, which is an artificial additive, with chia, in the process of making jam.
Recently, the department signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), a standards enforcement agency, to help build the capacity of the academics in the faculty. Tumwesigye believes that the partnership will offer the department an opportunity to “teach food science and quality assurance.”
According to the partnership that was signed in April 2022, UCU will be a ‘research agency’ that will supply the Bureau of Standards with the necessary research data to inform the standardization of curricula, short courses, student internships and training.
In return, UCU students will be attached to UNBS’ internationally accredited laboratories and trained on how to undertake quality analysis of product samples, in order to establish safety features that the agency considers before certifying a product.
Early this year, UCU academics in the same faculty also embarked on a year-long research among the elderly in Mukono district in central Uganda, hoping to help them unpack the health benefits of African indigenous vegetables.
Assoc. Prof. Elizabeth Balyejusa Kizito, the principal investigator of the research, titled, Exploring the Potential of African Indigenous Vegetables for Human Health in Uganda, said through the research, they will find out the biochemical profile of the African indigenous vegetables.
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