Trans-Fatty Acids: Significant Public Health Challenge – CSOs

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… Seeks policy for their elimination from food supply

Trans fats food products

A coalition of civil society organisations (CSO) and Trans-fat Free Nigeria Coalition says trans-fatty acids (TFAs) remain a significant public health challenge because of lack of awareness of the dangers associated with consuming it.

They made the assertion at a press conference on ‘Trans-fat and cardiovascular disease: Protecting the health of the populace through TFA regulation’ convened by Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), the Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED), Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria, Ave Health Sense, the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI), Nigeria Heart Foundation and the Resolve to Save Lives among others in Lagos.

In his remarks on the occasion, the technical adviser, TFA-free Nigeria Campaign, Dr. Jerome Mafeni, said some of the challenges to industrially produced TFAs (iTFAs) legislation in Nigeria included lack of awareness that TFAs are a significant public health challenge, lack of capacity of small and medium food producers to replace TFAs, and lack of replacement fats and technology.

He explained that iTFAs are common in baked goods, pre-packaged foods, and some cooking oils, and are significant contributors to cardiovascular diseases (CVD) worldwide, estimated to contribute to over half a million deaths every year.

Mafeni stressed that the draft Fat and Oils Regulations 2019 and the Pre-Packaged, Ice and Labelling Regulations of 2019 before the National Assembly which limit trans-fat to two per cent of the oil and fat content in all oils, fats, and food products could be achieved by comparing it with the dangers of cigarette and tobacco consumption.

In her remarks, the executive director of CAPPA, Akinbode Oluwafemi, explained that to ensure that Nigeria does not go below the standard recommended by the WHO in trans fats elimination, a coalition of non-governmental organisations under the #TransFatfreeNigeria Campaign Stakeholders was initiated, and that the #TransfatFreeNigeria campaign has been spearheading awareness creation on the dangers of trans fats consumption and the need for effective regulation to check trans fats in our foods.

In early 2021, the campaign developed public service announcements (PSA) and has continued to issue press releases and syndicate articles periodically to educate the public and sustain the pressure for speedy regulation to address the trans-fats menace.

On the regulation front, he noted that the coalition has built a robust partnership with the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and commended the agency for the draft “Fat and Oils Regulations 2019” and the “Pre-Packaged, Ice and Labelling Regulations of 2019” currently awaiting approval by the governing council of agency.

On her part, the Nigeria Coordinator for GHAI Resolve to Save Lives Cardiovascular Health Programme, Ms Joy Amafah, said cardiovascular deaths are one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide and that industrially produced trans-fat (iTFA) is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.

According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) Global Burden of Disease data (GBD) Result Tool, Nigeria recorded approximately 854,000 deaths in 2019. Of the figure, approximately 137,000 deaths were said to be attributed to cardiovascular diseases and 3,229 attributed to TFA-related cardiovascular deaths.

“It is clear that TFA elimination is important to help curb preventable deaths in Nigeria,” she said.

Amafah urged the Federal Government to take clues from West African countries that have begun the process towards trans fat elimination.

“Nigeria as a leader in West Africa has the golden opportunity to be an example and reinforce this status by advancing a WHO “best buy” measure for protecting health, making populations more productive, and saving on health care costs through iTFA elimination,” she added.

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