Dr. Jerome Mafeni, is the MD/Chief Executive Officer for Mafeni Pedodent Hospitals and Healthcare Limited . He has held several senior positions in Public Health in Nigeria and in other parts of Africa. Currently he is a Director with the Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED) which is championing the policy campaign for the elimination of Trans fat from Nigerian food. In this interview with ONYEAÑUNA ONYEDIKACHI, he among other issues advised people to eat right to increase their chances of fighting most diseases.
There have been reports that people with pre-existing medical condition do get complications if they contact COVID-19, please explain?
Anybody can contract COVID19. However, for many persons they are able to deal with the effects of the infection successfully and recover. However, for those who for one reason or another have a health condition that they were already challenged with, the additional burden of the COVID19 infection affects them unduly limiting their chances of coping successfully. Such conditions would include those that reduce their immunity due to infection such as HIV/AIDS, Autoimmune diseases, poorly controlled diabetes, and Cancers.
Other potential health challenges will be pre-existing respiratory illnesses such as asthma, TB, obstructive lung diseases, etc. Finally, people with cardiovascular challenges such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, heart failure are also particularly susceptible as their ability to carry oxygen around the body successfully is compromised. These conditions tend to be common among the elderly which is why they are the most susceptible to dying from COVID19.
What are those lifestyles that compromise Cardiovascular system and what are the pre-emptive actions?
Sedentary lifestyles, poor diets and eating habits that lead to obesity, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are some of the risk factors that compromise the cardiovascular system. Daily exercise for at least 30mins each day, eating regularly and eating healthy foods free of excessive carbohydrates and fats, stopping smoking and limiting alcohol consumption are key pre-emptive actions that individuals can take to protect their health.
Also, presenting oneself for annual medical check ups is also another very good strategy as underlying conditions can be discovered early and managed.
Exactly what are trans fatty acids and how dangerous are they to the
Trans fat, or trans-fatty acids, are unsaturated fatty acids that come from either natural or industrial sources. Naturally occurring trans-fat come from ruminants (cows and sheep). Industrially produced trans- fat are formed in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil converting the liquid into a solid, resulting in “partially hydrogenated” oil (PHO).
Approximately 540,000 deaths each year can be attributed to intake of
industrially produced trans-fatty acids. High trans-fat intake increases the risk of death from any cause by 34%, coronary heart disease deaths by 28%, and coronary heart disease by 21%. This is likely due to the effect on lipid levels: trans-fat increases LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels while lowering HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. Trans-fat has no known health benefits.
How much awareness is there among Nigerians on the dangers of
consuming these trans fats?
Nigerians have very little awareness of the dangers of consuming foods that have high trans fatty acid content. Efforts have commenced to improve public awareness but this is still at a very low scale and needs to be significantly ramped up especially to those segments of the population that are not regularly consumers of convention media outlet offerings.
Are there a particular foods Nigerians must be wary of if they are to remain healthy?
Generally foods from fast-food establishments tend to have high contents of trans-fats. Others, will include sweets and confectioneries, and bakery products. Fried foods sold by street vendors are another potential source of high trans fat content.
Are there also local foods that contain trans fats?
Meat from cattle, goats and sheep tend to have trans fats in varying degrees.
However, because there is a limit to how much meat an individual can consume, this tends not to cause so much damage. However there is a great potential danger that foods such as buns (puff-puff), akara, yam and plantains that are fried by roadside vendors that re-use the frying oils repeatedly will contain significant amounts of trans fats that could pose danger to health.
If trans fats are so bad, why are manufacturers using them?
The big multinational food products manufacturers have commenced the processes of removing trans fats from their products or limiting their concentration to globally acceptable limits. The bigger challenge is with the smaller manufacturers and food vendors that need to produce foods in large quantities quickly on a daily basis. They use oils containing high levels of industrially produced trans fats because they presumed this enabled them to achieve deep frying temperatures and ability to deliver greater crispiness and flavor to their food products. They also had limited awareness and understanding of the health dangers created from using such products. Fortunately that awareness is now beginning to grow.
At the global level is there anything being done to eliminate transfats?
REPLACE is an action package developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) that supports governments to ensure the prompt, complete, and sustained elimination of industrially produced trans-fat from the food supply.
The practical, 6-step package calls for the promotion of use and consumption of healthier fats and oils, the elimination of industrially-produced trans fats, to be achieved through regulatory actions, while establishing solid monitoring systems and creating awareness among policy-makers, producers, suppliers, and the public. A target has been set for the elimination of Trans-fats from the food supply of all countries by 2023.
Is it true that there are some diseases that consumers of trans fats are predisposed to that can also make them more vulnerable to dying when they contract COVID-19? Can you mention them?
Consumers of high quantities of foods with high trans fatty acid content are generally prone to several non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, obesity and cancers. As mentioned earlier, these all make persons who also simultaneously contract the COVID19 infection to be more likely to suffer severe consequences and complications of the disease.
NAFDAC recently asked for public input into its Draft Oils and Fats
Regulations which includes limiting transfats in foods. How far has the
agency progressed in this regard?
NAFDAC has received comments on the two draft regulations mentioned and are in the process of compiling them to produce improved draft regulations for approval by the NAFDAC board. Following the Board approval, the regulations will then be sent to the office of the Attorney General of the Federation for official gazetting into law.
What is your message to NAFDAC on the issue of transfat regulations as the entire world combat the COVID -19 pandemic?
NAFDAC should not use the excuse of the COVID19 pandemic to delay further work on the completion and approval of the draft regulations but should rather expedite all actions using online technologies and social distancing methodologies to obtain rapid Board approval for the regulations. These regulations are needed now more than ever so that persons under lockdown at home do not fall into the temptation of increasing their consumption of foods high in trans-fats.
On a parting note what should Nigerians be eating at this time of COVID-19 to remain healthy?
At a time like this, Nigerians are advised to eat naturally processed foods with high fibre content, including consumption of vegetables, fruits and nuts. They should avoid comfort eating and binging on fast-foods that could lead to excessive weight gain
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