Legislation to keep Nigerians in shape

Some years ago, Americans had reportedly sued McDonald’s and other Quick Service Restaurants for making them obese through junk foods. ONYEKORMAKA ASABOR presents efforts by Nigerian authorities to keep the citizenry ‘in shape’ and avoid such scenario

If there is anything that all consumers deserve, it is the right to healthy food. The right is expedient, given the rise in diet-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, which represent a major public health issue. In fact, the number of overweight people has continued to rise, and there have been unsuccessful attempts to reverse the trend.

Against the backdrop of a huge demographic spectrum of Nigerians embracing western diet and lifestyle, numerous ailments that were hitherto not prevalent in this part of the world are commonplace, and they unarguably constitute the health issues the people struggle with.


Dangerous number

A recent report from the International Diabetes Foundation revealed that one in 10 adults worldwide had diabetes in 2021. This statistics amounted to over 567 million adults living with the disease. The IDF Diabetes Atlas predicts that this number will to rise to 643 million by 2030 and 783 million by 2045.

The report discussed the continued increase in diabetes prevalence, confirming the disease as a significant global challenge to the wellbeing of individuals, families and societies.

According to the report, 81 per cent of the affected adults (about four in five) lived in low and middle-income countries.

Diabetes led to 6.7 million deaths in 2021; that means one diabetes-related death occurred every five seconds, the report noted.


Enter COVID-19

Ayesha Motala, a South African professor in Diabetes, who was part of the research team, stated that the Coronavirus Disease placed an additional burden on diabetic patients.

She said, “The urgency is even greater because COVID-19 has placed an additional burden on people living with diabetes, making them more susceptible to the worst complications.

“We are yet to see the impact of lockdowns, the use of masks, and the potential risk of COVID-induced diabetes on the population. There is a widely-held concern that the pandemic may have caused a further rise in the prevalence of diabetes and its complications that will manifest over the coming years.”


Sugar tax connection

The Federal Government of Nigeria recently imposed a drink tax “to boost Nigeria’s fight against obesity and diabetes.” The new policy, referred to as ‘sugar tax’, is contained in the Finance Act signed by President Muhammadu Buhari on December 31, 2021.

As gathered, the new tax on carbonated drinks by the Nigerian government would not only assuage declining revenues, but could become a new tool to fight obesity and diabetes in the country.

Nigeria hosted estimated 12 million obese persons in 2020, according to a study published in the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, part of the United States National Library of Medicine, using data gathered from the World Health Organisation and the Nigerian authorities.


Mixed grill trails legislation

The government’s move to regulate the consumption of fatty foods has been trailed by a mixed grill, as some Nigerians demanded nutritional freedom, while others supported government’s move.

For instance, Ken Obajuna said, “What I eat should not be government’s business; it is my choice. I do not need the government to tell me what to eat. I eat healthy foods all the time.  Most of us, at least in Lagos, are educated enough to distinguish between what foods are good for us and those that are not so good. So I choose to eat healthy because it fits my active lifestyle and I enjoy my figure.

“If someone wants to ruin their life by eating junk, then let them suit themselves; it’s their choice. I view myself as an adult, and with adulthood comes the informed decision to eat healthy diet that is free from fats.”

But to Paulinus Ndimele, a civil servant, “The government should have a say considering that many people are fat and dying, which is sad and nasty. In fact, I learnt that people are dying at age 50 to 60 because they are so fat. It is a major problem and kids are getting fat and dying also at eight years of age.”

Similarly, Isaiah Komolafe, an accountant, sees sense in imposing tax on unhealthy foods and subsidising foods that are considered healthy.

“Claiming that government should have no business in diets is tantamount to ignorance, lack of logic and reason. They know that it costs the state more and it hurts the wellbeing of consumers, collectively, if a large portion of the population is immeasurably unhealthy. It is not to strictly ban foods, but to encourage healthy eating and tax those that will cause the nation to spend more through unhealthy eating.”

Ostensibly supporting Ndimele’s view, Wilson Iweka, a pharmacist, said, “Government should have a say in our diets when so many people are eating unhealthy, putting their lives and that of their children in danger.

“To me, the government is fighting a new war against obesity. It costs money to care for the diabetic population, cardiovascular problems, and to build new structures to bear the weight of the obese population: bigger hospital beds/scanners, bigger seats and access ramps everywhere for those unable to walk because they can’t carry their own weight. It is the duty of the government fight this war and protect the people.”

In the same vein, Esther Chukwuka said, “The government has the right to regulate what people eat because over the years, people have become overweight due to QSRs and many more. Most families are unbearably placed in a position where they continue to cater for more and more people. When this happens, the consumers are subjected to avoidable health expenses.

“On a positive note, imagine Nigeria with a healthy population, where families would not have to cater for the sick. It would just be great!”

According to Edmund Ebizide, most families in highbrow locations in the cities like Lekki and Ikoyi, Victoria Island in Lagos are seemingly averse to healthy foods, as they are unarguably accustomed to ‘take away junk foods’ prepared and sold in QSRs.

He said, “If people want to eat unhealthy food, government should allow them. It is a free world! I support eating healthy, but the government should not have so much say over what we eat.”

Some respondents, who spoke under anonymity, wondered why government did not try to subsidise staple foods like rice, beans and garri with taxes accruable from luxury items like champagne and luxury vehicles, since it cares for the citizenry.

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