Does docosahexaenoic acid play a role in infant malnutrition in the children of Fulani nomads in Northern Nigeria?
Malnutrition is a major contributor to the death of children under 5 years of age in sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, poor nutrition causes stunting and underweight in infants and children while at the same time putting at risk normal neurologic and cognitive development. A recent study of rural Fulani infants up to age 2 years in northern Nigeria found that more than one-quarter were stunted and underweight. The nutritional status of these infants was relatively sound at birth but progressively declined over the following 2 years. While insufficient dietary macronutrients such as protein and carbohydrate and micronutrients such as iodine, zinc, vitamin A and iron may well have contributed to their post-natal growth retardation, in this report we raise the possibility that inadequate intake of essential long.chain ω-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in particular, by infants during the first few years of life may play a role in childhood malnutrition in this part of the world, especially in populations like the Fulani pastoralists who live far-removed from the ocean which would otherwise provide access to DHA-rich seafood. We conclude this piece by
suggesting several approaches for improving the DHA status of pregnant and lactating Fulani women and their offspring in Nigeria.
Key words: Docosahexaenoic acid, fatty acids, Fulani, malnutrition, Nigeria