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Public health nutrition

A comparative study of the nutritional status of children in villages in northern Nigeria using and not using soya beans

A. O. Owolabi, J. O. Mac-Inegite, F. O. Olowoniyan, and H. O. Chindo


The nutritional status of 240 children between the ages of 2 and 15 years in communities that use or do not use soya beans was evaluated by conventional methods. There were significant differences (p <.05) in the nutritional status of pre-school (2-5 yr) and school-age children (6-15 yr) in the three communities. Using weight-for-height as an index of acute malnutrition, 32.5%, 25.5%, and 22.6% of preschool children were normal in Kurmin Masara, Kaya, and Makera, respectively, as were 44.6%, 24.4%, and 21.7% of school-age children. Kurmin Masara, a community producing and using soya beans, had a significantly higher percentage (p < .05) of nutritionally normal and a lower percentage of severely malnourished children than the other two villages. Generally, malnutrition was more pronounced in school-age children in the three communities. Soya bean accounted for 34.4%, 28.5%, and 1.3% of the protein intake of children 2 to 15 years of age in Kurmin Masara, Kaya, and Makera, respectively.

Our findings appear to validate the importance of soya bean in the diet of children, especially in this period of economic recession when animal protein sources are very expensive. Extension service efforts are necessary in Nigeria and other African countries to increase soya bean production and use to improve the nutritional status of the population, particularly young children.


The prevailing economic trends in Nigeria, aggravated by the introduction of the structural adjustment programme in 1986, have made it difficult for the low-income population to afford foods of animal origin because of their expense. This has often resulted in a serious imbalance of nutrient intake, as evidenced by the prevalence of malnutrition among rural children and nursing mothers [1, 2]. Substantial evidence shows that imbalance of nutrients is a major food-related risk and threat to health [3-5]. As a consequence of the dearth of animal protein, the low-income population increasingly depends on plant food sources to meet their protein and other nutrient demands. Roots and tubers account for 78% of the total calorie intake of Nigerians, and animal products (including fish) less than 3% [6].

Soya bean (Glycine max) has a high protein content and balance of amino acids [7]. The protein has a significant biological value among plant proteins [8, 9]. It was postulated [10] that soya bean (40% protein and 20% oil) has the potential of alleviating the malnutrition problem in Nigeria.

We monitored the impact of soya bean consumption on the nutritional status of children in three rural villages of Kaduna state in northern Nigeria.

Materials and methods

Selection of villages

The three villages were chosen on the basis of the work of Giwa et al. [11]. Their study showed that soya bean started to be produced in the mid-1950s in Kurmin Masara, and it is currently grown by nearly every household, with more than 75% of the farmers storing the crop for home consumption. About 82% of households now consume soya bean regularly at the rate of about 1 kg per family per week in the form of kose(fried soya bean paste), alele (soya bean paste), and soya milk.

Soya bean production in Kaya started in the mid1980s, with the bulk of the crop being sold to Funtua Cotton Seed Crushing Company. Barely 6% of women prepared soya bean foods.

Makera is a community that neither produces nor consumes soya beans. Only about 15% of households have heard of soya beans, and no farmer in the area is growing them.

TABLE 1. Number of households, sample size, age, and sex distribution in the three villages

Village Households

Sample size

Age (yr)



Kurmin Masara 21 80 15 20 25 20
Kaya 24 80 25 15 20 20
Makera 20 80 15 15 30 20

Food-consumption survey

The subjects were 240 children from Kurmin Masara, Kaya, and Makera (80:80:80). Their dietary data were obtained by 24-hour dietary recall and by weighing the items they consumed for three days. All ingredients used to prepare their meals were weighed with Waymaster dietary scales. The amount of food eaten by each individual during each meal was also weighed, and any leftovers and plate wastes were noted. All snacks and items eaten outside the home were noted. Meat, fish, and eggs were weighed separately where applicable. Aliquots of food samples (3 g) were reserved for moisture determination as recommended by the Association of Official Analytical Chemists [12]. Aliquots of raw and cooked food samples (20 g) were dried to constant weight at 60C for 24 hours, pulverized, and used to estimate thiamine content.

Nutrient estimation

The nutrients of the food consumed were calculated using food composition tables. The adequacy of intake of energy and nutrients for various age groups was compared with the intakes recommended by WHO [13] and FAO [14]. The contribution of soya bean to protein intake was calculated as the percentage of protein from soya bean in relation to total protein intake. Thiamine was assayed spectrofluorometrically in accordance with established procedures [12, 15].

Sampling techniques

The households in this study were randomly selected. They were made up of Hausa (82.2%), Igbo (9.6%), Yoruba (6.5%), and other ethnic groups (1.8%). The numbers of children in each household were clustered and a specific number was randomly selected among them (table 1).

Anthropometric data

Anthropometric data were obtained with a structured questionnaire using rapid rural appraisal techniques and conventional survey methodology. Children were weighed on a bathroom scale wearing a minimum of clothing. Height and mid-upper-arm muscle circumference were measured as described by Jelliffe [16].

Statistical analysis

All data were statistically analysed by Student's t test and one-way analysis of variance where appropriate.

Results and discussion

The nutritional status of pre-school children (2-5 yr) in the three villages compared with National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) [17] and Metropolitan Life Insurance (MLI) [18] tables is presented in table 2. The results revealed the presence of malnutrition in the three communities regardless of the parameter used in the assessment. According to weight-for-height, which is an indication of acute malnutrition, only 32.5%, 25.5%, and 22.6% of the preschool children in Kurmin Masara, Kaya, and Makera, respectively, were normal. About 5.8%, 8.2%, and 16.5%, respectively, were severely malnourished. When height-for-age, an indication of stunting, was used, the results remained essentially the same. Weight-for-age as a criterion gave the highest percentage of wasted children in the three communities.

TABLE 2. Nutritional status of pre-school children (2-5 yr) in the three villages compared with NCHS and MLI values

Index Status Kurmin Masara (%) Kaya




Weight/height Nutritionally normal 32.5 25.5 22.6
  Moderately malnourished 61.7 66.3 60.9
  Severely malnourished 5.8 8.2 16.5
Weight/age Nutritionally normal 30.7 25.1 19.9
  Moderately malnourished 57.4 61.3 59.9
  Severely malnourished 11.9 13.6 20.4
Height/age Nutritionally normal 26.2 19.2 17.7
  Moderately malnourished 66.7 70.8 71.6
  Severely malnourished 7.1 10.0 10.7

TABLE 3. Educational level of parents

Educational level Percentage
No education 55.4
Primary school 24.2
Post-primary school 10.8
Post-secondary school 1.2
Unspecified 8.4

TABLE 4. Monthly family income

Income (naira)a Percentage
>500 1.2
300-500 12.8
200-300 18.4
100-200 38.8
< 100 25.2
Uncertain 3.6

a. 22 naira = US$1.

The poor food and nutrient intakes in the families are the result of the low socio-economic status of the parents, as evidenced by their educational attainment and monthly income (tables 3 and 4). Furthermore, 56.2% of the parents were peasant farmers, most with extended families (tables 5 and 6). The percentage of malnutrition was high by all parameters examined. The degree of malnutrition was highest (p < .05) in Makera, the community that did not produce or use soya beans, and the percentage of nutritionally normal children was highest (p < .05) in Kurmin Masara, a community that produced and used soya beans.

The food intake patterns of all the communities were essentially similar, with predominant consumption of cereal-based staples and low consumption of legumes apart from soya bean (table 7). The 24-hour dietary recall showed that the lowest consumption in all three villages was that of meat and fish.

TABLE 5. Occupation of parents

Occupation Percentage
Farmers 56.2
Housewives 20.8
Traders 7.6
Teachers 4.8
Skilled workers 6.4
Others 4.2


TABLE 6. Size of households in the three villages

Household size Kurmin Masara (%) Kaya (%) Makera %
1-4 3.3 7.8 6.7
5-9 36.7 28.9 48.9
10-14 31.7 54.4 41.1
15-20 20.0 6.7 3.3
Not sure 8.3 2.2


TABLE 7. 24-hour dietary recall in the three communities

Food type Kurmin Masara (%) Kaya (%) Makera
corn paste 11.7 64.4 67.8
sorghum paste 35.0 46.7 41.0
rice paste 11.7 8.9 13.3
rice 53.3 20.0 30.0
brabusco (corn meal) 18.3 8.9 24.4
pap 81.7 68.9 78.9
dambu (corn meal) 16.7 17.8 15.6
bread _ 6.7 4.4
semovita 16.7 7
soya bean meal 35.9 30.7


Roots and tubers
yams 11.7 16.7 28.9
sweet potatoes 10.0 24.4 26.7
plantain 3.3 4.4  
gari1 1.7 6.7 4.4
soya beans 88.9 65.8


cowpea 36.7 42.2 45.6
groundnut 88.3 85.6 81.0
black beans _ 7.8


Fruits and vegetables
spinach 61.7 44.4 35.6
okra 6.7 11.1 16.7
miya kuka (soup) 38.3 57.8 67.8
kakarshi (soup) 6.7 11.1 16.7
Meat and fish
dried fish 10.0 16.7 18.9
meat 31.7 23.3 20.0
egg _ _ _
frozen fish 3.3 5.6 _
Oils and oilseeds
palm oil 86.7 95.6 84.4
groundnut oil 28.3 71.1 73.3
animal fat 10.0 21.1 26.7
melon seed 6.7 _ _
camel's milk 1.7 2.2 4.4
cow's milk 23.2 18.9 26.7
palm wine, beer _ _ _
groundnut cake 26.7 35.6 42.2
roasted groundnut 88.3 85.6 90.0
wheat cake 18.3 17.8 26.7
corn snack 28.3 26.7 18.9
bean cake 43.3 47.8 35.6
fried bean paste 61.7 80.0 73.3
roasted corn 15.0 15.6 6.7
others 11.7 6.7 11.1

TABLE 8. Nutritional status of school-age children (6-15 yr) in the three villages compared with NCHS and MLI values

Index Status Kurmin Masara (%) Kaya (%) Makera (%)
Weight/height Nutritionally normal 44.6 24.4 21.7
  Moderately malnourished 49.7 55.2 54.6
  Severely malnourished 5.7 20 4 23.7
Weight/age Nutritionally nonnal 55.7 40.9 52.6
  Moderately malnourished 39.7 50.4 32.2
  Severely malnourished 4.6 8.7 9.2
Height/age Nutritionally normal 32.7 27.4 24.9
  Moderately malnourished 54.7 60.5 56.9
  Severely malnourished 12.6 12.1 18.2

The was appreciable consuption of vegetables ,but their high moisture content and loss of nutrients during home preparation makes dependence on nutrient intake from this source very unreliable. Soya bean therefore constituted a major contribution of protein and other essential nutrients, particularly in Kurmin Masara where it was consumed on a large scale. Soya bean accounted for 34.4%, 28.5%, and 1.3% of the protein intake of children 2 to 15 years of age in Kurmin Mesara, Kaya, and Makera, respectively.

The nutritional status of school-age children (615 yr) compared with NCHS [17] and MLI [18] tables is summarized in table 8. Malnutrition was identified in this group no matter what parameter was used. According to weight-for-height, 44.6%, 24.4%, and 21.7% of children were nutritionally normal in Kurmin Masara, Kaya, and Makera, respectively. The percentages of severely malnourished children in Kaya and Makera were 20.4% and 23.7%, respectively, significantly higher (p < .05) than that in Kurmin Masara (5.7%). Our results revealed that malnutrition is most pronounced in this age group. This might be attributed to the cultural and religious practices in these areas, where children from age six years, especially boys, are allowed to wander around and fend for themselves.

The mean thiamine (vitamin B1) intakes of children of pre-school and school age in the three villages are presented in table 9. Our data did not reveal any significant (p <.05) variation among the villages; however, thiamine intakes in all communities were very low, suggesting that the requirements may be heightened, as a majority of the subjects subsisted on high-carbohydrate diets.

The poor thiamine intake is a reflection of poor nutrient intake. For instance, protein intake from meat, fish, milk, and eggs was very low (<1%), and no family in the three villages reported eating eggs in the 24-hour dietary recall. Evidence tends to suggest that the use of antimalaria drugs in endemic areas suppresses thiamine intake [19]. Furthermore, the high dependence on vegetables and fruits may contribute to thiamine deficiency because of the presence of antithiamine factors in them [20]. Similarly, reduced thiamine bioavailability was seen after riboflavin deficiency [21]. Biochemical ariboflavinosis is reported to be prevalent in these population groups in Nigeria [21-23].

It therefore appears that thiamine deficiency arising from marginal riboflavin intake and other related factors may be evident in these age groups. The use of biochemical indexes is suggested for screening the thiamine status of the communities, as circumstantial evidence from this study suggests the prevalence of a deficiency.


The estimated thiamine intakes in the present study were below WHO requirements [12] for children. Considering the low socio-economic status of the population, adequate consumption of a combination of plant foods is recommended to enhance thiamine intake, as foods of animal origin, which are good sources of the vitamin, are expensive and out of their reach.

Kurmin Masara, a community that produces and uses soya bean, had a significantly higher (p < .05) percentage of nutritionally normal children (2-15 yr) and a significantly lower (p < .05) percentage of severely malnourished children than the other two villages surveyed. This was attributed to the consumption of soya bean. In Nigeria and other countries of Africa, extension service efforts to increase soya bean production and use are recommended.

TABLE 9. Dietary data for all children

Village Subjects Protein intake (%) Energy intake (kcal) Thiamine intake(mg/day) Contribution of soya bean to protein intake (%)
Kurmin Masara Pre-school (2 5 yr)
boys 70.5 2.5 1,460 120 0.46 0.04 38.7
girls 66.4 1.6 1,420 215 0.37 0.01 34.5
School-age(6-15 yr)
boys 62.9 3.7 2,650 106 0.71 0.10 36.8
girls 68.2 5.0 2,010 148 0.68 0.08 28.6
Kaya Pre-school (2-5 yr)
boys 62.7 4.0 1,510 360 0.38 0.01 28.4
girls 67.9 2.1 1,500 212 0.34 0.06 29.2
School-age (6-15 yr)
boys 60.6 2.8 2,310 165 0.66 0.07 27.4
girls 64.8 1.0 1,960 316 0.57 0.12 20.8
Makera Pre-school(2-5 yr)
boys 48.6 3.4 1,345 145 0.37 0.03 0.5
girls 56.0 2.5 1,690 310 0.32 0.06 0.0
School age(6 -15 yr)
boys 50.2 4.2 2,920 182 0.62 0.06 2.4
girls 57.5 3.3 2,114 210 0.53 0.14 1.2


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