- Seeks Speedy Enactment Of Regulations To Stop ‘Time Bomb’
Among Nigerians, little is known about the ‘killer’ trans fat, alternatively referred to as ‘bad fat’ in food, yet the toxic chemical is in the meals consumed daily by a far majority of the Nigerian population estimated to be over 200 million people.
Described as a risk factor for Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD), a higher intake of trans fat increases CVD risk by 23 per cent and mortality by 34 per cent. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the toxic fat kills over half a million people every year.
With the rapid change in Nigerian cuisines and food culture which have been largely influenced by Western lifestyle over the years, health experts have warned that many Nigerians may be digging their own early graves through their diet, albeit unknowingly as most baked, fried and packaged foods they consume day-to-day contain this toxic substance of utmost concern.
On top of that and in the absence of trans fat regulation in the country yet, much of the vegetable oils used for cooking in Nigerian homes have been said to contain a high percentage of the ‘bad fat’ — trans fat, something the WHO hopes to eliminate globally from foods by 2023.
This shocking optics notwithstanding, the ignorance on the subject; dearth of resources; absence of regulations and awareness on the harmful effects of trans fat have all combined to continue to cost Nigeria many productive lives daily.
This formed the thrust of the concerns expressed by health and media stakeholders at a recently held Journalism Training on Trans Fats Reporting in Nigeria.
The training organised by the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) practically brought journalists up to speed on the food security threats posed by the killer trans fats and how best to engage the Nigerian public on this developing health issue.
Dr. Jerome Mafeni, Trans Fatty Acids Technical Advisor, Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED) explained that Trans fats are unsaturated fatty acids derived from both natural and artificial sources. He said while moderate intake of the naturally occurring trans fats found in meat and dairy of ruminant animals –cows and sheep, etc.– does not appear harmful, trans fats from artificial sources are agents of early death.
Artificial trans fats are formed in an industrial process by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil (from plant seeds) converting the oil from its stable liquid form into a solid, resulting in Partially Hydrogen Oils (PHOs) found in many Nigerian staples.
Mafeni, while reeling out grim statistics as they relate to global cardiovascular diseases and their link to trans fat intake, said 523 million persons had CVD in 2019 alone, adding the figure was up from 422 million in 2015. Also, about 18.6 million global deaths were recorded from CVD (up from 8.92 million in 2015).
“CVD is the leading cause of death in the world as it accounts for one-third of all global deaths,” Dr. Mafeni said, stating that majority of the CVD deaths happen in the global South — low and middle income countries including Nigeria where governments have failed to take bold action on cutting down the use of trans fat in foods.
Also, in a shocking revelation, Dr. Kingsley Akinroye, Executive Director, Nigerian Heart Foundation (NHF) disclosed that out of about 150 package vegetable oils on supermarkets’ shelves in the country, less than 10 of the products have been certified by the Foundation.
Akintoye, who explained that NHF is collaborating with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to do a certification of some vegetable oils, called for support and political will from the Nigerian government to boost capacity in checking the bad oils. He said adequate regulations would ensure the country have oils that are heart friendly with low level of trans fat and cholesterol which are known contributors to heart diseases.
To stop the uptick in its use and eliminate the killer chemical from global food supply by 2023, the WHO had in 2018 released a step-by-step module which includes review of dietary sources, promotion of healthy alternative to transfats, legislating or enacting regulatory actions on trans fats; assessing and monitoring trans fat content in food; awareness creation; and enforcement of policies and regulations.
After several years of inaction, the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) under the supervision of the Health Ministry in January 2019, published two Regulations to curb trans fats – Fats and Oils Regulations 2019; and Pre-Packed Food, Water and Ice Labelling Regulations 2019.
In the draft Regulations published on NAFDAC website, contributions were demanded from the Nigerian public between February 9 – March 9. However, health stakeholders are currently concerned about the slow pace of progress as much has not been heard from NAFDAC since the agency first called for recommendations from stakeholders two years ago.
Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director, CAPPA, while calling for a speedy enactment and enforcement of an all-encompassing trans fats regulations that would checkmate the entire food industry and its value chain, urged government to wake up to its responsibility on food security in Nigeria.
Oluwafemi also called on the media to constantly engage citizens on the dangers associated with the consumption of food products that contain trans fat to wean them off killer food choices for healthier alternatives.
Faulting various arguments often put forward by the food industry in countries, Mr Rolf Rosenkranz, Associate Director of Communications, Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) said “it’s not true that trans fat elimination will change the cost or taste of food” as often claimed. Rosenkranz, who spoke virtually urged the media and citizens to be wary of any argument that attempts to claim trans fat elimination is anti-poor as he reiterated that statistics have shown that poor people are often the victims of CVD death as a result of regular trans fat intake, no thanks to low or non-existence of awareness in poorer nations.
Dr. Nneka Orji, Public Health Advocate and Technical Assistance to Minister of State for Health, Dr. Olorunnimbe Mamora said the enactment of the Regulations would curb the killer trans fat as she urged Nigerians to devise strategies that would enable planning towards lifestyle modification in their choice of daily meals to stop the ticking ‘time bomb.’