Millhouse International founder Andre Redinger discusses the importance of a good nutritional intake and how it directly impacts mental health, especially amongst the poorest of the poor in southern Africa.
The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated and brought to the fore the underlying issues that exist globally in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. Suddenly, everyone realised that maintaining optimum nutritional health cannot be seen in isolation to the rest of our overall healthy functioning – and so, “healthy body, healthy mind” has, once again, become an important adage for all ages.
In the latest of global updates and appeals, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) revealed that in Southern and Eastern Africa at least 1.5 million children are not receiving the life-saving treatment required for severe wasting.
Children suffer from wasting when they do not gain sufficient weight or suffer from weight loss due to not receiving the required dietary intake. The figures represent nearly half of the overall number who, if not reached and treated in time, could result in permanent damage or loss of life.
While the numbers are enough to galvanise the government and private sector, it really is only the tip of the iceberg. Both malnutrition and poor mental health are leading sources of global mortality, disease, and disability.
Across the continent a confluence of factors such as rising levels of food insecurity, disease outbreaks, droughts, floods and conflicts all have a devastating impact on the daily lives of those suffering, and this puts a great strain on physical and, in the end, mental health.
The fact is, historically, nutrition and mental health have been viewed as separate fields of research. However, the trajectories of research for both have evolved into an intersection of evidence. If continued significant movement is to be made in addressing both, a number of factors must be addressed.
Abolishing food poverty will have a ‘domino effect’
Food poverty levels in Africa look set to remain as inflation across various regions perpetuates food insecurity, increased costs of living as well as supply shortages. In fact, just last week, the United Nations announced that the Sahel region, which runs nearly the breadth of the continent, is on the brink of an horrendous food crisis.
The number of people in the region facing starvation has increased tenfold.
While the physical manifestations of malnutrition are easier to identify, its impact on mental health is more nuanced. That being said, clear evidence exists that malnutrition at a prenatal level is directly associated with aberrant fetal brain development. In adolescent years, this can result in a greater vulnerability to developing schizophrenia.
Access to food that is nutritional is the first step in ensuring that food poverty levels are addressed. And encouraging efforts have already been undertaken in this journey. In 2021, the World Bank approved a $570 million multi-phased programmatic approach programme that would improve food system resilience, promote intraregional value chains and build regional capacity to manage agricultural risks.
Fortification of staple foods
To deal with the ongoing crises, households across the country and continent have needed to reduce the amount of foods they consume daily due to lack of access. The quality of foods consumed must therefore take centre stage. The answer here lies in ensuring that the everyday staple foods (wheat, flour, maize, sugar) that are consumed have the nutritional value to sustain one mentally and physically throughout each day.
Enter fortification – the process of adding vitamins and minerals to staple foods in order to increase their nutritional value. This is a trusted, cost-effective and safe way to improve diets and prevent deficiencies and, in the long run, ultimately positively contributing to thriving mental health.
Yet many still do not understand what fortification is and its importance. At Millhouse, we’ve always believed that there is no better way to nourish our nations than through the foods we consume on a daily basis.
Our proudly South African A+ brand and product line aims to educate children and adults on the value of fortification. We do this through partnering with local food manufacturers, educating them on and encouraging them to fortify their produce to A+ standards to deliver maximum nourishment to their consumers.
Prevention is better than cure
While there is still a struggle to combat malnutrition at a neonatal level, prevention still remains the ideal manner to ensure children avoid permanent cognitive and physical damage due to malnutrition.
While access is crucial, food that is unsafe can contain bacteria that is harmful – potentially leading to hundreds of different diseases. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) it’s estimated that one in ten individuals fall ill after consuming contaminated foods each year. This accounts for 420 000 deaths.
The current environment regarding food safety speaks directly to the testing and analysis landscape in Africa not being conducive to serving the ever-changing industry at large. This, coupled with time delays, prohibitive costs and operational inefficiencies results in the poor integrity of food products.
Recognising these constraints, in March, Millhouse will be launching a pioneering Biotechnology and Analytical Laboratory, housed at the world-renowned Parc Científic de Barcelona in Spain.
The main purpose of the lab, which will cater to clients across the continent, will be to service an industry-wide need for swift, cost-efficient and trusted testing of vitamin and micronutrient blends, regulated premixes and staple foods. This will go a long way to curbing deaths due to contaminated foods globally.
The impact of poverty on human lives cannot be isolated under one umbrella – in fact, it can seem rather complex to combat the devastating effects when it is always changing. To make strides in overcoming long-term negative impacts to development (both physical and mental), a step-by-step approach is required.
Ensuring that what we consume is safe and sufficiently fortified can only lead to positive outputs mentally and in other crucial areas of daily life.
- Andre Redinger is the founder of Millhouse International.