COVID-19: A Threat to Human Nutrition

COVID-19: A Threat to Human Nutrition
8 min read

Jackline Boateng, MPhil Student in Food Science and Technology from the CSIR/College of Science and Technology

The novel COVID-19 pandemic has definitely proven to have tough wings as the disease has spread across the world and invaded even the toughest borders of super powerful countries. The disease mainly affects the respiratory system and comes along with symptoms such as fever, sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose just to mention a few.  This destructive virus has affected many, leaving homes in despair and in sorrow. COVID-19 has also pulled down giant economic systems as well as hundreds of jobs and other productive activities which have directly impacted transportation systems, physical activities and access to food consumption.

The increased rates of deaths and infections caused by the Coronavirus has left developed and developing countries with no other choice than to enforce lockdowns where movements are restricted. Aside from the restriction of movement, food security has been a recent issue for both developed and developing countries with much concern dedicated to the poor and less privileged in our societies. Prior to the lockdown in the affected countries, there was the issue of panic shopping where people rushed and emptied shelves of foods, and tissue paper especially. This left the poor and less privileged in despair due to their inability to store up as much food as they could.

Studies have shown that there is a strong association between diet and immunity. The ability of the human body to fight against certain diseases and infections is often based on the body’s immune system. In order for the body to achieve this activity, there is the need to consume a balanced diet which is made up of the right proportions of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. Deficiencies of these nutrients could lead to the disruption of the ability of the immune system to fight diseases and infection. The World Health Organization (WHO), for instance, encourages the intake of legumes, eggs, meat, dark leafy vegetables coupled with fruits such as oranges, tangerines and other sources of vitamin C to help in the absorption of iron present in these foods. Iron deficiency as an example could lead to fatigue, poor physical performance, irreversible effects on brain development and learning in children under two years of age among others.

Various research works have shown that nutrition plays a vital role in the development of the human body such that the individual nutrients that make up the composition of a meal come together to promote growth, repair worn out tissues, strengthen the body’s immune system among others. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the COVID-19 disease has interrupted the lifestyle of the earth’s inhabitants, from physical activities to eating patterns among others. One of the implications of the lockdown is poor physical activity where individuals are often glued to their television sets or seen sleeping with a reduction in movement and exercises. Some celebrities have taken it upon themselves to pose challenges on social media where they are seen performing various physical activities in order to encourage others to do same. These interventions, however, are only limited to those who can afford the luxury of smart phones or gadgets and internet connections, leaving others who lack these at a disadvantage.

The negative implications of the COVID-19 pandemic has been clearly observed across all forms of lives with a decrease in the economic activities of individuals thus affecting individual’s ability to earn adequate income to access food thus limiting them to the right form of nutrition. Due to a decrease in the income and disruptions in businesses, people are not able to purchase food as they are used to or known to buying. The lockdown measures have affected transportation, thus limiting people to their homes and making it difficult to go the markets in order to purchase foods. Basically, the individual’s ability to access foods with the necessary nutrients needed for the body to build immunity and remain healthy has been limited due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 disease.

At the community level, the individual’s ability to access the right food for the human body in part depends on the action, plans and interventions put across by the leaders in the community. Community leaders are therefore besieged to put across measures that can help individuals access foods with ease by allowing provision shop owners for example to access transport to the markets to buy foodstuffs that can be sold in the community. Also community leaders should identify the aged, poor people and the less privileged in their respective communities so that donors can access them easily during food donation periods. These days almost everyone has access to social media making everyone some sort of a “medical expert” in one disease or the other thus spreading false information and misinterpreting information put across by leaders. In a time like this, community leaders are expected to be the primary sources of passing measures outlined by the national leaders. Misinformation passed across by unauthorized persons may put ignorant persons at risk of the COVID-19 disease by flouting rules and others resorting to all types of herbs and foods claimed to cure the infection. Misuse and inappropriate use of some of the said herbs and foods could even interfere in the absorption of some nutrients needed for the body’s development.

On a larger scale, measures put across by our national leaders could go a long way to affect the individual’s access to foods and making the right food choices. Times are tough now especially in terms of the economy and earning of income. The individual’s ability to make the right food choices at this point in time could depend much on the government’s initiative to cut down taxes on staple foods (such as cereals and tubers), food commodities and fresh fruits and vegetables, reducing petroleum prices, and provide assistance to farmers and food producing industries. Also there is the need to stock up foods in selected ware houses and create food banks should the disease stay for long. Lastly, the need for effective communication during this period is vital such that, individuals are able to access the right information for lockdown dates and other measures put across to be able to prepare adequately and buy the right foods needed for the lockdown periods thus avoiding over hoarding and panic buying. Also the government should beckon other well to do individuals and companies to assist in donating foods to the poor, less privileged, aged citizens and vulnerable in the society.

The aftermath of the COVID-19 disease could lead to malnutrition in terms of obesity, wasting, undernutrition and stunting if our nutritional needs are not addressed appropriately. We all are partners in fighting the COVID-19 disease and it starts from the individual’s ability to make the right decisions with respect to abiding by government’s measures, making the right food choices and staying active during this period. Wash your hands, cover your mouth when sneezing and coughing with tissues, practice social distancing and eat healthy foods in order to build immunity to the disease.

Let us all practice these in order to stay safe.