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NCDs: Nutritionists provide soft landing for soft drinks, beverages


ARE soft drinks and beverages unhealthy? How does the consumption of soft drinks and beverages contribute to incidence of chronic disease deaths? What is the role of soft drinks and beverages in development of Non-Communicable Diseases, NCDs, or the “silent killers” as disorders such as heart attack, stroke, erectile dysfunction, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases among others are known?

These and other posers were on the front burner recently when nutritionists, allied professionals and other stakeholders in the Nigerian health industry, gathered in Asaba, Delta State, to discuss the relationship between nutrition, food security, the Millennium Development Goals and national development.

At the Asaba event, occasion of the 42nd Annual General Meeting and Scientific Conference of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria, NSN, the experts, after a careful assessment of the role of the food and beverage industries in promoting nutrition in Nigeria, voted for adoption of proper community education and enlightenment as solution to the challenges brought on by NCDs in the country.

The event put together by the NSN in collaboration with Coca-Cola Nigeria Ltd., the Delta State government and the Delta State Committee on Food and Nutrition among others, closely examined strategies for improving optimal nutrition towards achieving the MDG targets in Nigeria.

In several instances, effects of the high sugar content of soft drinks and their role in development of NCDs, have elicited much concern.  From hindsight, the subject choice was not a surprise considering that large-scale concerns about associated health risks from the growing consumption of soft drinks within the Nigerian populace have engaged the health community at different levels in recent times.

Notable among such concerns have been the allegedly significant effects of the high sugar content of soft drinks in the development of  NCDs such as Cardiovascular Disorders, CVDs, heart attack, stroke, Erectile Dysfunction, cancers, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases and others commonly referred to as “silent killers”. Excerpts:

For every NCD, there are risk factors  —Dr. Elizabeth Chibuzor, Nutritionist, Associate Professor, University of Maiduguri, Borno State.

“For every non communicable disease, there are factors, and multi-factorial variables that are associated. With diabetes, I try to get all those factors that people have said have an association with diabetes and a looked at their hot ratio that is the risk of having diabetes if you indulge in those factors. So I looked at factors one by one starting from antropometric variables that is those that are thin among the diabetics. I didn’t even go to those people that had the disease already established but those that didn’t know they had the disease.

Some of the speakers at the event. From left: Professor Tunde Oguntona, Dr. Elizabeth Chibuzor, Mr. Clement Ugorji and Ms. Julia Otaya

“We took their blood to measure the biological parameters of how high the sugar was and found out that the prevalence among my sample population was 12 per cent when people were saying at that time it was one per cent in Nigeria. So with that I now looked at not just the prevalence, I compared with those people that didn’t have the disease and then looked at their lifestyles and found out even that those people that are lean had the disease. So it is malnutrition related disease.

We took all the diets they had eaten using the food frequency questionnaire that contains all the possible foods that are consumed in that area and we checked them one by one. We then found out that for those who eat more sugar there were no significant risk of  having diabetes. The  only food that was significant in our study was we call wenarogo that is those flat fried bread made from cassava, they spice it and fry it and those people that were eating it had 6.3 times as high risk of diabetes than other people.”

No single nutrient causes NCDs — Julia Otaya, Nutririonist, Health and Wellness Manager, Coca-Cola Central East and West Africa

“Basically what I am trying to communicate is that when it comes to the golden rules of nutrition, eating a variety of food is very important and moderation is important depending on someone’s energy needs that is very important. But when you look at the incidences of NCDs, the risk factors are actually very clear. They are poor diet, excessive intake of calories and physical activities which are actually low. Very low levels of physical activity has actually been mentioned as one of the main causes of NCDs.

The World Health Organisation actually just gives specifically what are the causes and they actually mentioned tobacco, alcohol intake and of course the whole issue of obesity that leads to many other diseases.

For me, the take home message is for you to ensure you lower the risk of you getting NCDs, take care of your diet, watch your weight, engage in physical activity because it is important and then an intake of lots of fruits and vegetables in the diet is very important and then the intake of fibre, that is also very important and of course other lifestyle changes. Let us not target one single source of nutrient as a cause of NCDs because it is multifactorial.”

No direct association between sugar-sweetened drinks and obesity  — Professor Tunde Oguntona of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria.

“I am not aware of any publication that has associated sugar sweetened drinks with obesity directly. We have always known that the issue of obesity is a complex one that involves lifestyle, food intake, sedentary lifestyle and so on. We have always known that the degree of relationship has not been fully established. What we have heard today demonstrated that sugar, table sugar has not been implicated directly in the cause of obesity or NCDs.

On the other hand there are other factors like sedentary lifestyle, sitting down all day not doing exercise that is a major contributor to obesity. If beverages can provide the micronutrients like vitamin A, iron, zinc that we know that our people are deficient in why not encourage manufacturers to include those nutrients in their beverages?

I am open to food manufacturers enriching their products at little or no cost because it is one easy way of meeting these requirements.  Considering the amount of beverages  available in this country to me it is a good idea that they should include more micronutrients in their products. So we shouldn’t look at beverages as something that is bad, but as something that  can be used as a vehicle for meeting the nutrition requirements of our people.

There is a role for soft drinks and beverages in a healthy nutrition  —  Clement Ugorji, Public Affairs and Communications Manager, Coca-Cola Nigeria.

“There is a role for beverages including soft drinks and juices all in a healthy nutrition not just for the individual but for the nation.

There is need to create partnerships with critical stakeholders who understand the issues at stake and can help in the dissemination of such information. That is what we have started.

Naturally, we are starting some form of mass enlightenment campaign which will naturally be in partnership with these bodies and also the regulatory bodies as well.

We have a portfolio of beverages that addresses people’s needs at different life stages, life occasions and situations. So basically we recognise the fact that people want beverages to refresh themselves and we also recognise that one beverage alone will not satisfy the needs of everybody which is the reason why we offer people choice.

If you have issues and you think that sugar is not good for you, or you don’t like the taste of sugar, we offer you alternatives.

If you are already diabetic, we advise that you reduce intake of soft drinks —  Professor Ignatius Orimawo, erstwhile President, Nutrition Society of Nigeria

“For me anybody who has a health issue which did not just start yesterday, we advise against taking soft drinks or whatever, because soft drinks contain already absorbable sugar which definitely will increase your blood sugar level. So if you are already diabetic we advise that you reduce the intake of such drinks and if possible avoid them.

Under normal circumstances if your insulin is working very well even when you take so many bottles of soft drinks  the insulin is designed to take care of it and you wont have any problem. But if you already have a problem, you need to watch it.  A ban of soft drinks will not work. What will solve the problem is nutrition education. A ban is not the solution. There is nowhere a ban of such thing has ever worked in the world and it cant work in Nigeria.


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