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GEORGINE OBWANA: Is “Nutrition Journalism” one of the silent answers to ending malnutrition?

OPINION- Have you ever thought of the power of the media? Do you ever imagine what the media is capable of changing or not changing? I am privileged to have had this monologue and it is amazing to know the amount of power and influence the media holds upon the public. I sometimes think the media is like some sort of demi-god.

In 2014, the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), held in Rome, received extensive media coverage revealing deep nutrition issues that stirred the world. The media played an important role in ensuring articles from leading newspapers worldwide as well as reports from televisions and radios focused on the conference. Social media was awash with activities too.

Mario Lubetkin, the then Director of Corporate Communications, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and currently the Assistant Director General, shared his opinion about the role of the media and visibility for malnutrition around the world after the conference.

He said, “Nutrition has achieved visibility as an issue on the global agenda, primarily because of its serious social ramifications in developing and developed countries alike.” But the media has to report more.

A report released in September by Civil Society Alliance for Nutrition Uganda (CIANU) on a survey is conducted about Journalists’ Nutrition Reporting Skills’revealed that close to 70% of journalists’ in Uganda have not been exposed to any form of training in nutrition reporting much as they broadcast and publish nutrition stories.

The report also indicated that over 90% of journalists are very much willing and interested in undertaking training in nutrition reporting.

From these findings, the media has a powerful role to play when it comes to disseminating and communicating information around nutrition for instance marketing of foods, information about behavioral or lifestyle change like promoting healthy diets, physical activity and consumption of micronutrient-rich foods including traditional local foods. Being the ears and eyes of the public, society is bound to believe what the media says.

Thus more attention needs to be given to the media by government, civil society, development partners as well as the private sector in ensuring they are well informed through having access to training on nutrition reporting. With frequent training the media will be able to inform and educate the public about nutrition issues from an informed point of view.

I am impressed by the recommendations the report put forward which among others include; Developing a nutrition media training guide, Incorporating nutrition reporting in journalism curriculum, Undertaking regular nutrition reporting skills training, Facilitating in-depth media reporting on nutrition, Providing mentorship opportunities and fellowship programs to improve reporting on nutrition,Designing and disseminating media packages to strengthen nutrition reporting, and advocating for support for nutrition reporting at the editorial and top management levels in the media.

A well informed population in regards to nutrition issues, combined with good policies/programs and proper food systems is a healthy productive population that is capable of fostering development.

Malnutrition is still a challenge in Uganda with the common forms being wasting, stunting, micro-nutrient deficiencies. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to increase malnutrition cases beyond what it initially was. This is because measures put in place to contain the spread of the disease are having devastating effects on access to quality nutritious food.

The writer, Georgine Obwana is the Program Officer – Civil Society Alliance for Nutrition Uganda (CISANU)

georginemarine@gmail.com

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