As Nigeria joins the global community to commemorate World Obesity Day on Saturday, March 4, 2023, the Federal Government has been reminded about the grave health crisis that confronts the nation as more citizens consume Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSBs).
This year’s World Obesity Day theme, “Changing Perspectives: Let’s Talk About Obesity”, reinforces the need for the public health community, policymakers, and other critical stakeholders to come together to advance solutions to the predictable and preventable health crisis.
The obesity epidemic in Nigeria is said to have reached unprecedented levels, and its impact on the health of consumers is devastating. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 28% of adults in Nigeria are considered obese. This statistic represents millions of Nigerians who are at risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. The identified diseases do not only threaten the quality of life of those affected, but they also impose heavy burdens on the nation’s healthcare system and the economy, according to observers.
Experts say that excess body weight and obesity are strongly associated with an increased risk of developing Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases, chronic kidney disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, and musculoskeletal disorders.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), individuals with obesity are at a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases, accounting for 41% of obesity-related fatalities, and experiencing disability-adjusted life-years, with a global prevalence of 34%.
A publication from BMC Public Health in 2020, shows that the increase in obesity rates in Nigeria is driven by factors such as changing dietary habits, sedentary lifestyles, and urbanisation. In particular, the consumption of high-calorie, high-fat, and sugary foods have increased in recent years, while physical activity levels have decreased.
The Lagos-based Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) states that the increase in obesity rates in Nigeria is a cause for concern, as obesity is a risk factor for a range of health problems, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer.
According to the group, it highlights the need for targeted interventions to promote healthy lifestyles, including regular physical activity and healthy eating habits, particularly among populations at high risk of obesity.
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CAPPA’s Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said: “One of the main contributors to this epidemic is the consumption of SSBs. These drinks are high in calories and sugar with little to no nutritional value to consumers. They are widely available and heavily marketed, particularly to children and teenagers. These unhealthy products are major contributors to the high rates of obesity and related diseases in our country.
“As the world creates awareness today, we call on the government of Nigeria to rise to its responsibility of ensuring the welfare of Nigerians by taking necessary policy steps towards the reduction in the consumption of SSBs.
“Alongside behavioural change, the government must institute proven public health policies for the good of the people and to reverse the ugly trend of avoidable deaths associated with obesity.”
He added that the existing N10 per litre tax on SSBs in Nigeria is not enough, stressing that “while it was retained in the yet to be signed Finance Bill, it must also be immediately increased to meet global best practices and optimum efficiency.”
Research has shown that taxes on sugary drinks have been successful in reducing consumption and improving health outcomes in over 50 countries. For example, in Mexico, a tax on sugary drinks resulted in a 12% reduction in consumption in its first year. Additionally, such taxes can help to reduce health inequalities by disproportionately reducing consumption among low-income and minority populations who are more likely to suffer from obesity and related diseases.
CAPPA believes that by reducing the consumption of sugary drinks, the government can help to prevent chronic diseases, which are more prevalent in low-income communities.
“The SSB tax is not about punishing people for their choices. It’s about creating a healthier environment that encourages people to make better choices for themselves and their families.
“The commemoration of World Obesity Day should galvanize us as a nation to recommit ourselves to the fight against obesity through improved awareness and pro-people public health reforms. Delay is dangerous,” Oluwafemi insisted.