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Reduce salt intake to stay alive, sodium study team advises Nigerians

L-R Mark Huffman Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, USA, Co Principal Investigator, Nigeria Sodium Study, Director General of NAFDAC, Professor Moji Christianah Adeyeye,Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja, Professor Abdul Rasheed Na’ AllaH, and Dr. Dike Ojji,Co- Principal Investigator, Nigeria Sodium Study at the stakeholders’ meeting in Abuja

By Sunday Oyinloye

Nigerians have been advised to reduce their salt intake in order to avoid their lives being cut short.  This was the outcome of the 1st Nigeria Sodium Study Multi-Sectoral Stakeholders’ Meeting jointly hosted by University of Abuja and National Agency for Food Drug and Administration Control (NAFDAC).

Also, it has been revealed that more than 1 out of every 7 of the 7,093 foods surveyed did not have any salt or sodium labeling for consumers to make healthy choices

Dr. Mark and Dr. Ojji

A communiqué issued at the end of the meeting attended by stakeholders from across the country and abroad, says consuming high amount of sodium, a key element in salt, is a major cause of high blood pressure.

The communiqué signed by Dr,Dike Ojji  of College of Health Sciences, University of Abuja, Co-Principal Investigator Nigeria and  Mark Huffman Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, USA, Co-Principal Investigator on behalf of the Nigeria Sodium Team says further that excess salt intake contributes to the risk of stroke, heart disease, and chronic kidney disease

 “In Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, the impact of these diseases that is attributed to excess salt consumption is significant and has been estimated to cause about 1 out of every 10 of deaths due to stroke and heart disease” said the team

Group photograph of some of the stakeholders

The team study however revealed that there is clear and compelling evidence of the benefits in reducing excess salt intake, including lower blood pressure and lower risk of stroke or death.

According to the study” reducing excess salt intake will be a central strategy toward improving and sustaining the heart health of Nigerians to live longer, healthier lives by reducing the burden of heart disease and stroke. The first stakeholders’ meeting of the Nigeria Sodium Study was an initial and important step toward this goal.”

The Nigeria Sodium team therefore recommends the following: improving community awareness and knowledge on the risk of excess salt consumption, improving standardization and awareness of nutritional labelling, multi-sectoral collaboration and engagement, and strong government leadership, regulatory processes, and accountability mechanisms to enhance trust and ensure a level playing field.

It would be recalled that in 2019, Nigeria published its National Multi-sectoral Action Plan (NMSAP) for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases. This Action Plan includes policies to reduce population-level salt consumption. Key policies under this Action Plan include: (1) Mandatory limits of sodium in packaged foods, (2) Mass media campaigns to promote healthy eating, (3) Regulations on food and beverage advertising to children and adolescents, and (4) School-based health education programs. The Action Plan is led by the Nigerian Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). Other stakeholders include the Federal Ministry of Health, Standards Organization of Nigeria, World Health Organization, academia, local communities, and the food industry, among other stakeholders.

 To facilitate the implementation of the Action Plan, NAFDAC and the University of Abuja co-hosted the first Nigeria Sodium Study Multi-Sectoral Stakeholders’ Meeting on November 11, 2021, at the University of Abuja. The objective of this meeting was to ensure early buy-in from different stakeholders on how to reduce excess salt consumption in Nigeria. More than 400 people attended the meeting, including key dignitaries such as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja, Professor Abdul Rasheed Na’ Allah, Director General of NAFDAC, Professor Moji Christianah Adeyeye. Co-lead investigators of the Nigeria Sodium Study Dr. Dike Ojji, College of Health Sciences, University of Abuja and Dr. Mark Huffman, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and Mrs. Moji Makanjuola, a Nigerian veteran journalist and broadcaster.

The Nigeria Sodium Study Investigators presented findings on the in-depth interviews and focus group discussions among regulators, food producers, consumers, retailers and restaurants, academia, and healthcare workers, and the results of the packaged food retail surveys in the Federal Capital Territory, Kano state and Ogun state. While the NMSAP was acceptable, major barriers to the implementation included: (1) customs and cultural taste for high salt diets, (2) lack of awareness and low knowledge on risk and amount of salt in foods, (3) ambiguous and complex nutrition labels, (4) easy accessibility and affordability of high salt diets, and (5) unavailability of and experience with salt substitutes.

The retail survey showed that the saltiest food categories consistently exceeded World Health Organization recommendations. Further, more than 1 out of every 7 of the 7,093 foods surveyed did not have any salt or sodium labeling for consumers to make healthy choices.

The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire(represented) ,Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja ,Professor Abdul Rasheed Na’ Allah, Director General of NAFDAC, Professor Moji Christianah Adeyeye  and others who  spoke at the stakeholders meeting  stressed the importance of reduction of salt in the meals of Nigerians and charged participants to carry the message to all communities in the country .

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