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Why Nigeria should speed up action to eliminate trans fats – Experts

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Godsgift Onyedinefu

Experts have again expressed concern over the consumption of Trans-Fatty Acids in foods which they say is silently responsible for the growing number cardiovascular diseases and highly preventable deaths, while it’s elimination is yet to receive the attention it deserves.

Though experts say not all fatty acids are dangerous to the health, they however describe industrially produced Trans Fatty Acids (iP_TFAs) as poisons which Nigerians consume daily without knowing and end up suffering the health ans economic consequences as well as economic further putting pressure on the fragile health care system. Industrial trans fats are gotten through partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils.

Even as Nigeria grapple with several other disease burden, experts say consumption of trans fats has become a major public health concern. Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director CAPPA, Quoting a recent report revealed that more Nigerians are now getting heart attacks and strokes from consumption of imported vegetable oil that have high trans fats content.

Oluwafemi had warned that trans fats could overwhelm Nigeria Nigerian healthcare system if concerted efforts are not made to get rid of it in foods consumed by the citizenry.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that trans fat intake leads to more than 540,000 deaths of people from cardiovascular disease annually, with Nigeria accounting for 1,261 of that figure. The agency notes that trans fats are still used in Nigeria and other countries as an ingredient in fried foods baked goods and spreads to make them attractive and have a longer shelf life

The need for Nigeria to speed up action and meet the target for the elimintation of iP-TFAs was re-echoed at a 2-day workhop organized by Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) in Abuja recently.

Jerome Mafeni, Country Technical Lead of Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED) likened trans fats to cyanide arsenic poisons which interfere with the metabolic process of life, taking the place of natural substance that performs a critical function.

According to him, consumption of iP-TFAs are associated with cardiovascular diseases and many other adverse health effects such as blood cholesterol, diabetes, Obesity, cancer, gut bacteria , and inflammation as they clog arteries and make blood vessels unhealthy and inflamed.

Studies have also shown that when people eat even small amounts of trans fats have a higher risk of stroke, heart disease and sudden heart death.Just 2 grams of trans fats can raise a person’s risk, researchers have said.

Mafeni said it was important that the Nigerian government prioritise elimination of industrially produced trans-Fats because, replacing trans fat with healthier oils/fats in the food supply is a low-cost way for governments to save the lives of their citizens. According to him, Costs to implement best practice interventions (i.e regulatory limits on trans fat) are likely well under the commonly accepted thresholds of cost-effectiveness.

He notes that the WHO also recommends trans fat elimination as a cost-effective intervention for Nigeria and other middle- income countries.

Mafeni also notes that experiences in several countries demonstrate that industrially-produced tran fats can be replaced by healthier oils and save health care cost

He said modeling from the United Kingdom found a five-par net savings in healthcare costs, while in New York City, USA after a policy for the elimination of trans fat in fast foods was implemented, the city recorded a significant reduction in the prevenlce of cardiovascular diseases.

A study carried out in New York showed that Heart attacks and strokes fell by more than 6 percent three years after ban on trans fats, while there was a 6.2 percent decline in hospital admissions for myocardial infarction (heart attack) and stroke among populations living in counties with vs without trans-fatty acid restrictions.

In 2019, Nigeria drafted the Fats and Oils Regulation 2019, and the Pre-Packaged Foods, Water and Ice-Labelling Regulations 2019, but, they are yet to be approved several months after completion.

CAPPA, one of the CSO leading the fight for the elimination of industrially-produced trans fats wants the Nigerian government to fast- track approval of two draft Regulations initiated by the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC, seeking to reduce the consumption of trans-fats in food consumed in the country.

On May 14, 2018, the WHO also released the REPLACE action package which provides governments with a strategy to achieve the prompt, complete, and sustained elimination of industrially-produced trans fat from their national food supplies including six action area.

According to the ‘WHO Report on Global Trans Fat Elimination 2020,’ since it released the first publication of the progress report in May 2019, more than 40 countries have taken action to initiate or advance TFA policy discussions.

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