Adie Vanessa Offiong

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of deaths globally and accounts for 31% of deaths, worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). These statistics is causing more and more attention to be paid to trans fat consumption and its elimination.

The Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED) and the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) a coalition working towards a trans fat free Nigeria, have called for more concerted efforts in the regulation of trans fat use in Nigeria.

On September 29, commemorated as the World Heart Day, Dr Jerome Mafeni, Project Adviser for TFA Elimination NHED, spoke against the backdrop of the ‘WHO Report on Global Trans Fat Elimination 2020,’ launched on September 9., said Nigeria has what it takes to lead the charge on trans fat on the continent.

He said, “Nigeria has what it takes to ensure that it is trans fat free. Our success with achieving this can be encouraged in the WHO regional block and spread across the rest of Africa. We have the research findings and knowledge to know that trans fat is a burden on our health system and could overwhelm us if concerted efforts are not made to rid the country of it.

Speaking on how the pandemic is trimmed peoples’ food choices, Mafemi said, “At the moment it is very easy for people to simply make do with what they can find; especially with the devastation of COVID-19. But even as they make the choices, the onus is on the government to ensure that they are safe and not unduly exposed to harm because foods they consume.”

In the same vein, Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa has called for more involvement for Nigerians to task government on ensuring compliance with proper labelling of food packages.

Oluwafemi said, “while we push for government to pass the draft regulation on trans fat and oils, it needs to go hand in hand with ensuring that industry players are monitored. There is the ‘Pre- Packaged Foods, Water and Ice-Labelling Regulations 2019,’ we need take to take it beyond the draft stage where it current is.

“Nigerians need to know what they are consuming and also trust that the ingredients and their proportions listed, are true and not misleading.”

With 11 percent of over two million deaths in Nigeria as at 2019, attributed to cardiovascular diseases, according to the WHO, the coalition said, if such measures are put in place and checked to ensure compliance, the burden on Nigeria’s health system will be reduced significantly.

“It will also reduce the economic burden of treating trans fat triggered diseases on families,” Mafeni said.

This is especially as the novel coronavirus has severely rattled the already fragile health system and “cardiovascular diseases take the lives of 17.9 million people every year, 31% of all global deaths,” according to the WHO.

The WHO in a statement on World Heart Day said, cardiovascular diseases manifest primarily as heart attacks and strokes and “in turn show up in people as raised blood pressure, elevated blood glucose and overweight and obesity, risks detrimental to good heart health.”

The World Heart Day is a global campaign involving the participation of governments, communities, individuals and organisations, in activities to take charge of their heart health and that of others.

The goal is to drive action to educate people that by controlling risk factors such as trans fat consumption, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. This is as about 80% of premature deaths are related to heart disease and stroke, which are avoidable, according to the WHO.

In a bid to regulate trans fat consumption in Nigeria, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) came up with the ‘Fats and Oils regulations, 2019’ and the ‘Pre-Packaged Food, Water and Ice Labelling Regulations 2019.’

In this regard, CAPPA and NHED, continue to advocate for a trans fat free Nigeria and for both draft regulations to be passed.

At a press briefing on World Food Day, commemorated on October 16, Dr Mafeni, Project Adviser for TFA Elimination NHED, explained the role of dietary fats and oils in human nutrition. He also explained that trans fats are fats produced from the industrial process of hydrogenation and called on everyone to play their role in ensuring a healthy Nigeria.

Quoting a 2020 report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), he said, “The impact of malnutrition in all its forms – undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, as well as overweight and obesity – on the global economy, is estimated at USD 3.5 trillion per year.”

He stressed that, “It is therefore important on this World Food Day, that we also speak out about the importance of increasing access to healthy and nutritious food for all, including food that is free of toxic chemicals such as trans fatty acids (also referred to as Trans Fats for short). Improving access to safe and nutritious food is important especially for poor and vulnerable communities who are hit hardest by the ongoing pandemic and by the harmful effects unhealthy foods have on consumers.”

While urging Nigerian Government through NAFDAC, the Ministry of Health and other relevant authorities to expedite actions on the draft regulations, Mafeni, said that have already commenced towards enacting relevant regulations for the control and elimination of Trans Fat from the country’s food system.

Lending his voice to the call, CAPPA Executive Director, Mr Oluwafemi, who was represented by CAPPA’s Director of Programs, Mr Philip Jakpor said, “The underlying message to governments, producers, consumers, and all of us every year is that, the task of ensuring the wholesomeness of our food from the farm to the table is a shared responsibility.

The theme of this year’s commemoration [of the World food Day]: Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together, reminds us of this shared responsibility.

He said, while it is true that the focus of the day would ordinarily have been on how Nigerians hunger amidst abundance of arable land in the country, Jakpor said, the urgency of the present situation, called for more emphasis on how the little that Nigerians consume continues to harm their health.

According to him, “Fatalities attributable to trans fats consumption in Nigeria just a decade ago was 1,300 persons. But with the upsurge in the consumption of fast foods, packaged foods, baked foods and all sorts of processed foods best described as junk foods there is the likelihood that more people, especially the young upwardly mobile are at risk of a major trans fats- induced health catastrophe.”

The WHO in 2018, unveiled its REPLACE action package. It provides a strategic approach to eliminating industrially-produced trans fat from national food supplies, with the goal of global elimination by 2023.

The global apex body for health, called on governments to remove trans-fat from food supplies in a bid to have a healthy population.  It emphasised that, “Eliminating trans fats is key to protecting health and saving lives: WHO estimates that every year, trans fat intake leads to more than 500,000 deaths of people from cardiovascular disease.”

This is a call that the coalition and other stakeholders hope the Nigerian government will heed and quickly as well.