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Trans Fats on the Plate of Journalists From the South-East

by Aderonke Ogunleye-Bello

“I love my potatoes fried and as a single man, I don’t usually dispose of the oil, I reuse them. I am no exception like many ,” a smiling Sunday Elom of Orient Daily Newspaper told CAPPA media.
He continues, “I fry yam and other foods and even red oil sometimes when I cannot afford vegetable oil and I bleach it to look like vegetable oil to fry tomatoes.”
Sunday is one of many Nigerians that are oblivious to the dangers surrounding the usage and consumption of hydrogenated fats and oil also known as Trans-Fat.

Trans fat, also known as hydrogenated fats, forms when regular or liquid vegetable is converted into solid fats when it passes through hydrogen. There are two types of hydrogenated oils – partially hydrogenated and fully hydrogenated oil. Partially hydrogenated oil increases the bad cholesterol and lowers the good cholesterol in the body which could lead to cardiovascular and other heart related diseases while a fully hydrogenated contains less trans-fat and is less risky.

Dr Jerome Mafeni, a Technical Director at the Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED) said consuming Trans-Fatty foods is a harmful as swallowing slow poison.
“The issue of trans-fat is the story of a slow poison in our food chain. We can no longer fold our arms and watch our lives cut short by this deadly product. Industrially, oil is converted from the liquid state to a solid state so that it can have the capacity to withstand very deep fry and very long shelf life, these trans-fatty acids have the potential to cause heart disease, stroke, hypertension, blockage of the arteries. It also has the potential to cause kidney disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancers,”
To ensure Nigeria joins the rest of the world in limiting trans fatty acids in its food chain, the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health has updated two existing regulations, namely, the Fats and Oils, and Pre-packaged Ice and Water Labelling Regulation.

World Health Organisation
The World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2021 reported that cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), are the leading cause of deaths globally. A year earlier, an estimated 17.9 million people died from CVDs, representing 32% of all global deaths. Of these deaths, 85% were due to heart attack and stroke. The WHO has estimated that there are 500,000 global deaths per year due to coronary heart disease attributed to trans fatty acids.

Taking Up the Challenge
CAPPA is a Pan – African organisation that is passionately devoted to working with African communities to build partnerships with them towards taking collective social action towards the promotion and defence of the rights of peoples.

Journalism Training on Reporting Trans-Fats
CAPPA in conjunction with the Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED) organised a two-day training for journalists in the five eastern states of Nigeria on trans-fat and its health implications. The journalists came from Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo.
On May 6 and 7, 2022 in Enugu, capital city of Enugu state. Eighteen journalists from Abia, Ebonyi, Anambra, Imo, and Enugu states participated in the training.
Speaking to CAPPA media after the training, one of the participants, Angela Nkwo-Akpolu of Leadership Newspaper expressed her satisfaction, “I have learnt a lot and I want Nigerians to join us in the campaign against Trans-Fat. The oil that you used in frying plantain, reuse to fry meat, yam and later used to make stew is poisonous. Stop consuming poison in the name of oil, read the label of what you are buying and stay safe, sometimes it is not village people causing the illnesses, it is the oil you recycle. I will continue the campaign through my reports and further educate Nigerians. Thank you CAPPA, for the opportunity,” she concludes.
Participants were taken through topics on Trans-Fat reporting from diverse Angles: business, health, lifestyle, Gender, to effective ways of conducting interviews for health experts, developing trans-fat story Ideas, amplifying #TransFatFreeNigeria via digital media, and digital tools for advocacy.
After the presentations and interactive sessions, participants formed three groups where they brain-stormed and exchanged ideas on how to apply the presentations into solution-focused style of reporting for broadcast, print and multimedia medium.

The Role of Government
The Federal Ministry of Health was virtually represented by Mr John Atanda, National Coordinator of Food Safety and Quality Programme who acknowledged the bureaucratic delays in getting the regulations gazette and assured Nigerians that the ministry in conjunction with the National Agency for Food and Drugs, Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is working as fast as possible with all the necessary departments to pass the bill.
Dr Eva Edwards, Director of Food Safety and Applied Nutrition atNAFDAC, spoke on the processes recorded by the agency and the law that empowers it to play the critical role its playing in ensuring there are regulations that’d effectively cause Nigerians to have a trans-fat free food supply, “the 2022 regulations was based on the 2005 regulations and stated why it was amended and the reasons include the following; Nigeria is keying into the WHO REPLACE ACTION PACKAGE; the role of government is to create an enabling environment and level playing field for the reduction of industrially produced trans-fat in our food supply, and mandatory legislation (regulations) is an enabler to achieving this; Nigeria should not be left out in regulations aiming to eliminate TFA or limit the amount of TFA in industrially produced foods have been enacted in many countries,” she said.

Addressing audience at the event, Honourable Commissioner for health, Enugu State, Professor Ikechukwu Obi who represented the governor of Enugu State at the training as special guest said, “We believe this training will contribute significantly to the body of knowledge that will be in the public domain to educate Nigerians and pressure the relevant agencies of government at federal level to gazette the regulations.

“I want to assure you that the Government of Enugu state is committed to working with NAFDAC and other relevant agencies of government and the civil society community and the media in exposing the dangers of Trans Fat and efforts at promoting healthy diets and lifestyle for our people,” he assured.
Executive Director of CAPPA, Akinbode Oluwafemi, in his welcome address appreciated the participants for coming in despite the security uncertainty in the region and commended them for the enthusiasm. He noted that the training is a must as the campaign against trans-fat in Nigeria’s food supply is about everyone. Additionally, he thanked Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) for funding the project.

“I am fortified with enough knowledge that will guide my oil consumption and help me generate story ideas that will educate Nigerians about the dangers of Trans-fat and to also advocate for the Fat and Oils regulations to be gazetted, I am grateful to the organizers for putting this together,” Sunday Elom concludes.

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