Mrs Nike Anjorin recently developed an excruciating toothache and decided to visit the health centre to seek help. Upon examination by a medical doctor, she was admitted immediately because she was inches away from a cardiac arrest!
Unknown to her, her daily consumption of a brand of soft drink had spiked her sugar level and had developed into type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
The 52-year-old Anjorin had always had lunch at her office canteen with a bottle of soft drink, at least four days in a week.
She had argued that her religious belief forbade her from alcohol consumption, hence her resort to sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB), which unknown to her was a silent killer.
The doctors and nurses tried their best to keep her alive but 48 hours later, she gave up the ghost. Her distraught husband has not stopped telling sympathisers that his wife died as a result of an attack and negligence by medical doctors because he believed that it was impossible for someone to die from toothache; he failed to understand that there were underlying illnesses.
Social media trendy medical doctor, Chinonso Egemba had recently said a bottle of SSB contained a minimum of 16 cubes of sugar which caused grievous diseases. He had begun a campaign of more consumption of water.
For several Nigerians, irrespective of cultural, religious, ethnic or age differences, consumption of soft drinks is almost a daily affair. To some, it is a sign of affluence, especially for parents of young nursery and primary school children because water appears too cheap.
Recently, the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) and the National Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSB) Tax Coalition with support from the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) held a one-day regional stakeholders’ forum on SSB tax in Enugu State.
The forum brought together representatives from the ministries of Health and Environment from the five southeast states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo as well as health experts, civil society organisations and the media.
CAPPA executive director, Akinbode Oluwafemi disclosed that the forum was the fourth in the series, as similar meetings had been held in Lagos for the southwest, Bayelsa for the south-south region, and Kaduna for the northwest zone where CAPPA brought together stakeholders to discuss SSB tax.
A health professional, Dr Francis Fagbule in his paper on the burden of SSB consumption on public health in Nigeria disclosed that most people had developed type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver diseases, tooth decay and cavities just by consumption of soft drinks.
According to him, SSBs refer to liquids, powders or other concentrated forms that contain natural or added sweeteners, including various forms of sugar like brown sugar, corn sweeteners, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar and sucrose. This may include soft drinks (i.e. cola), juices (even 100 percent juices), nectars, sweetened coffee, sugarcane juice, sweetened tea, energy drinks and flavoured diary.
SSBs are found in energy drinks, sports drinks, flavoured waters, soda, sweetened tea/ coffee and fruit-flavoured drinks even as they have no nutritional benefits and are neither an essential nor desirable part of peoples’ diet.
He lamented that most health concerns that Nigerians blamed on spiritual attacks were actually conditions that resulted from years of SSB consumptions noting that it accounts for what appears as reoccurring health issues and advocated high water consumption.
Fagbule added that SSB was the major cause of non-communicable diseases like obesity, Alzheimers disease, chronic kidney diseases, depression and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Cardiovascular diseases include coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, congenital heart disease, peripheral arterial disease and pulmonary embolism.
According to him, medical research has shown that from 1995 to 2020, the number of Nigerians less than 20 years of age with hypertension spiked from 4.3 million to 27.5 million adding that unfortunately, over 70 percent of affected people was unaware of their health concerns.
Some of the reasons for the high consumption of SSB include its availability, affordability, urbanisation and changing lifestyle of Nigerians, aggressive marketing and advertising targeted at children and adolescents as well as lack of public education and awareness of the health risks.
Fagbule advocated increased SSBs tax to help reduce consumption and shift to healthier alternatives.
He however dismissed claims that increased SSB tax would lead to job loss in the industry insisting that already, the policy has worked in South Africa, United Kingdom and Mexico.
According to him, increased SSB tax and policy will make such drinks less affordable, restrict where it is sold, restrict marketing and penalise wrong information disseminated by advertisers, increase sensitisation on dangers while lifestyle changes will help to reduce the dangers of consumption.
Fagbule maintained that adverts of SSB products must be regulated to include warning on the dangers inherent in consumption, ban the use of health and nutritional claims, ban persuasive elements such as images of fresh and natural foods, and cartoon characters, and ban sales in schools and other settings with children.
Speaking on the economic and public health impact of SSB tax, Austine Iraoye said the main objective of increased tax is to correct the market failure and reduce consumption, raise public awareness, reduce free sugar intake in the population especially from low-income consumers, youths and children.
Iraoye said ultimately, increased SSB tax would generate significant revenue for government, which may be earmarked for financing the health sector, improve public health and wellbeing.
No doubt, a drastic reduction in the consumption of SSB products will help to address rising health issues especially those commonly termed as “attacks.”
Water may appear old-fashioned yet it has no replacement. Hence, people must learn to embrace the healthy option and drink more water because it remains the safest and cheapest option.