By G9ija

Report from the First Nigeria Sodium Study Multi-Sectoral Stakeholders’ Meeting Jointly Hosted by University of Abuja and National Agency for Food Drug and Administration Control (NAFDAC) at Faculty of Management Sciences Auditorium on Tuesday revealed 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 deaths due to stroke and heart disease.

Consuming a high amount of sodium, a key element in salt is a major cause of high blood pressure.

Chicago, Illinois, USA Co-Principal Investigator Nigeria Sodium Study on behalf of the Nigeria Sodium Team stated 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.

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, 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 labelling for consumers to make healthy choices.

To implement and scale up the NMSAP, the Nigeria Sodium Study investigators recommend: (1) improving community awareness and knowledge on the risk of excess salt consumption, (2) improving standardization and awareness of nutritional labelling, (3) multi-sectoral collaboration and engagement, and (4) strong government leadership, regulatory processes, and accountability mechanisms to enhance trust and ensure a level playing field.

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.