ABUJA – The National Agency for Food & Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), along with members of the #TransfatFreeNigeria campaign, have launched a series of Public Service Announcement (PSAs) on the health harms of trans fat, a food component that has been linked to more than half a million deaths per year.
“We urge Nigerians to watch and share these PSAs, and support NAFDAC in eliminating a toxic chemical that leads to so much avoidable death and disease,” said Akinbode Oluwafemi, executive director of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), a Nigerian non-profit supporting a #TransfatFreeNigeria.
Sustained high trans fat consumption increases bad cholesterol, lowers good cholesterol, and increases the risk of coronary heart disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive diseases. It has been linked to heart attacks as well as 540,000 global deaths per year, including 1,261 in Nigeria, according to 2010 estimates, the latest of its kind.
NAFDAC is in the process of incorporating trans fat into two important regulations, the Fats and Oils Regulation and the Pre-Packaged Food, Water and Ice Labelling Regulations. Draft language published earlier this year would limit trans fat to 2 grams per 100 grams of oil and fat in fats, oils, and foods intended for human consumption.
“NAFDAC must swiftly finalize and enact strong, mandatory trans fat restrictions that are in line with recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO),” said Dr. Jerome Mafeni, a member of the board of directors of the Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED). WHO has called for the global elimination of industrially produced trans fat by 2023, and released the REPLACE action package to guide efforts at the country level.
“Without further action, trans fat will remain in many of the foods we all love to eat,” Dr. Mafeni cautioned. International experience shows that trans fat can easily be replaced with healthier alternatives in the baked, processed and packaged foods where it is most common, he added.
NAFDAC’s draft regulations are an important step forward for the public health; the next steps are for them to be finalized and approved by the NAFDAC Governing Council.
At least 29 countries have taken steps to limit trans fat in their food supplies, including South Africa, India, Brazil, UK, USA, Canada, Turkey and Thailand. There have been a consistent calls from health experts and advocates for Nigeria to follow suit.
The newly released trans fat PSAs will be broadcast by NAFDAC and featured on the #TransfatFreeNigeria campaign’s social media channels. The campaign is encouraging public health advocates to get in touch with Adie Vanessa Offiong, +234 705 6944 520, firstname.lastname@example.org to help spread the message.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has made global trans fat elimination a priority (World Health Organization, 13th General Programme of Work, WHO/PRP/18.1 (2019)), and has called on governments to enact mandatory measures to protect the public health from trans fat consumption (World Health Organization, REPLACE, Module 4: Legislate or regulate, WHO/NMH/NHD/19.14 (2019)). The WHO considers a mandatory limit of 2g of trans fat per 100g of total fat in all fats, oils, and foods to be a best-practice measure.
NAFDAC’s proposal would therefore be considered a global best practice, and could serve as a model for other countries around the world. To date, countries that have followed WHO’s trans fat recommendations demonstrate that “[r]eplacing industrially produced TFA with healthier oils and fats is feasible and cost-effective, and will save lives.” (World Health Organization, Countdown to 2023: WHO Report on Global Trans Fat Elimination 2019, ISBN 978-92-4-151644-0 (2019)).
NAFDAC’s draft regulations include additional trans fat provisions, which can help protect the public health and reduce the likelihood that trans fat will be replaced with other unhealthy fats, such as saturated fats. For instance, NAFDAC’s proposal would limit the use of “trans-fat free” claims on labels, and would require some products to specify the presence and amount of trans fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. The WHO recommends the use of these types of complementary measures. (World Health Organization, REPLACE, Module 4: Legislate or regulate, WHO/NMH/NHD/19.14 (2019).