Home » The Danger of Junk Food

As deaths occasioned by non communicable diseases continue to be on the increase medical experts warn Nigerians over the harmful effects of junk foods. In this report, Wale Abideen, Managing Editor of SECURITY MONITOR traced the proliferation of terminal diseases to the foods consumed by the people.

Timothy Ajakaiye, a 33-year-old banker who just completed his National Youth Service Corps, NYSC after his university years is like every other youngster in his early 30s. In a country where unemployment seems to be a major challenge, Ajakaiye’s new job undoubtedly made him a cynosure of people’s eyes as he can afford to buy for himself anything money can buy. He starts his day with some instant noodles for breakfast and hurries off to the office. In his office too, he enjoys takeaway food from fast food that has littered the street of Lagos. Lunch usually consists of a fast-food takeaway with a side-order of fries and a large beverage. Ajakaiye enjoys his dinner with a large pizza shared with buddies and beer or sometimes a Chinese takeaway at his favorite joint besides his office. While everything seemed fine at first, Ajakaiye noticed that he was beginning to put on weight and was always fatigued. A trip to the doctor revealed that his blood pressure was off the normal charts. The doctor also told the young banker to conduct a diabetes test the result which showed he had developed a type 2 diabetes. His condition at the moment is so critical that he has been relieved of his appointment from the bank since he could no more be productive to his employer.

Ajakaiye’s story is not very different from the thousands of other youngsters in urban or semi-urban areas in this Nigeria. Their food habits are completely dependent on the processed food, beverage and alcohol companies. SECURITY MONITOR investigations reveal how these three industries, collectively called the ‘unhealthy commodities’ industry is causing an increase in the number of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) across the world. The term NCD refers to non-infectious and non-communicable diseases. They include heart diseases, stroke, cancer, diabetes, asthma, chronic kidney disease and many more. The latest estimates, according to London Health Journal suggest that NCDs killed a staggering 34.5 million people in 2010 accounting for 65% of the all deaths worldwide. By 2030, these types of diseases may claim about 50 million lives every year.

Not many Nigerians believe the report released by Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH management when the shocking death of Professor Adetokunbo Shofoluwe, former Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos was announced. Shofoluwe was said to have died of heart related disease and this sparks off controversy as many other scholars believed the man had no known problem to worry about. But experts at the LUTH believe that the type of lifestyle we live, the food we eat and type of what we drink can also bring about heart related disease. According to medical analysts, those who stay late in their various offices such as doctors, lecturers, journalists and many others are vulnerable to the effect of junk foods as they live on fast food that have been chemicalised.

“Despite the fact that we warn people against junk foods, it is amazing to discover that even here at the LUTH (Lagos University Teaching Hospital) the management still encourage the sale of snacks and the so called soft drinks by allotting shops to the sellers” Dr. Laguda told the magazine in his LUTH’s office.

The death of Bayo Shittu, a senior detective at the Independent Corrupt Practice Commission, ICPC also called for sober reflection on the part of those who find solace in fast junk food. Shittu was in his office in early 2013 when he slumped and died. Shittu was diagnosed to have died of hypertension.

The Lagos maverick lawyer, Bamidele Aturu was lively in his office few minutes before he died last year. He was said to have died of heart related disease. Before Aturu’s death many famous Nigerians including artists like Sam Loco Efe have been said to die of heart related disease.

Over the years, medical practitioners have consistently raised the alarm over the danger associated to what they refer to as ‘junk foods’. This is a term applied to some foods which are perceived to have little or no nutritional value, or to products considered unhealthy to consume at all. They are typically ready-to-eat and convenient foods containing high levels of saturated fats, salt, sugar and little or no fruit, vegetables or dietary fibre. The likes of vada pav, samosas, doughnuts, pizzas, burgers, rolls, wraps, Frankies, French fries, etc have penetrated every minds of urban dwellers in Nigeria that most elite cannot live a day without eating them. “You step out of your house and you’ll see them being served everywhere from malls, restaurants and roadside corners to office and school canteens”, Gideon Solomon, a Lagos based journalist told SECURITY MONITOR

The consequences that these junk foods have on people’s health are terrible, irrespective of whether people eat them once in a while, twice in a week or every day.
Junk Foods thus have little or no health benefits. Nevertheless, the Junk Foods are popular because of their simplicity to manufacture and easily attractive to consumer and of course because of their taste. Kazeem Olapade, a senior staff with Lagos state Ministry of Information told SECURITY MONITOR that “People prefer to eat them while watching Television and also save themselves a lot of hassles and time of preparing ‘real food”. According to Amadi Casmir, a Cardiologist and medical consultant at Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, “snacks and all other forms of fried food constitute blockage to the free flow of blood in the body and so could be dangerous for human consumption”. Casmir who warns Nigerians to desist from junk food stressed the need to avoid non- communicable diseases that may result from blood related ailment.

Tosin Ayodele, a nutritionist told SECURITY MONITOR that the first effect of eating Junk Food is its impact on energy levels. She added that many people skip breakfast and other important meals choosing instead to grab a quick snack or soft drink. “Junk foods can cause moodiness and make it difficult to get enough sleep at night so energy levels are never restores to normal. Another disadvantage of eating Junk Food is weight gain, which can lead to obesity overtime. Poor concentration is another result of Junk food habit.When you have a junk meal rich in Oil you feel drowsy and fail to concentrate. Heart deceases are a major risk factor of Junk Food Diet”. Ayodele said.
Ayodele also warn young Nigerians from junk food stressing that “the biggest irony regarding the Junk Food is the fact that it is mostly prepared out of healthy food. Consider a Pizza loaded with thick vegetable topping. The Junk factor of Pizza comes from the excessive cheese sprinkled over the vegetable and of course the Pizza base, which is made of refined flour which contains empty calorie”.

A recent scientific study from the University of Melbourne, Australia found that the ‘unhealthy commodity’ industries use strategies similar to the tobacco industry to undermine public health policies. These companies use strategies where younger people especially in the 10-25 age brackets are targeted with adverts and promotions. The increasing number of unhealthy products – soft drinks, instant noodles and pastas, burgers and pizzas, bhujias and mixtures – that we see on television or read about each day in the newspapers register permanently in the minds of the teenagers. Unsurprisingly, according to Australian findings “the industries don’t feel that comparing products like beverages to alcohol and tobacco products is unhealthy”.
The study also found another interesting correlation between sales of tobacco, alcohol, processed food and soft drinks in any one particular market. Places where tobacco markets have the most sales are also huge markets for alcohol and processed food products.

Daniel Pendick, executive editor of “Harvard Men’s Health Watch,” states that fast foods add too much salt to the body and that their sodium content is on the rise, which doesn’t bode well for human heart. According to Pendick, “consuming too much salt raises your blood pressure levels and forces your kidneys to work harder putting you at risk for heart problems, kidney disease and stroke. High salt intake is attributed to 2.3 million deaths worldwide, but by reducing your fast food intake you can avoid becoming a statistic”.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says “diet may be part of the cause of one in 10 Americans that die from depression”. A study published in March 2012 in “Public Health Nutrition” followed nearly 9,000 people who had never been diagnosed with depression. The results showed that people who ate fast food had higher rates of depression compared to those who did not. The more fast food participants ate, the more likely they were to be depressed.

However, since the debut of UAC’s Mr Biggs Restaurant in Nigeria in the late 90s a lot of fast food companies has sprang up in the country. Most residents of Abuja and other urban centers cannot survive without a visit to fast food joints. Virtually all streets in the nation’s seat of power have one fast food shop or the other. Over 16 fast food shops operate between Obalende an Ikoyi area of Lagos state. From Victoria Island to Ikeja, Surulere to Lekki, Mushin, Ikeja, Ikorodu to Epe. The trend all over the cities is fast food joints. The same situation in Portharcourt, Enugu, kano and all over the country.

Aside being a place to get instant food, the fast food joints have equally become a place where lovers enjoy their pastime. Some people meet at the joint to have brief meeting and by doing so enjoy their discussion with all sorts of chemical foods.

Despite the dwindling fortune of Mr Biggs the brand name, Mr Biggs is synonymous to any fast food joint as children often refer to any fast food shops as Mr Biggs. Many other fast food companies find their way into the country. Yinka Yusuf, information officer at the Nigeria Institute of Industrial Research told SECURITY MONITOR that “Today over 40 fast food companies operate in the country ranging from Tantalizers, TFC, Chicken Republic, Honeywell, Tetrazzini, Sweat Sensation, Munchies, Kilimanjaro, Kingstonjo, Triangle, Choppies and many more. The latest is Domino owned by entertainment mogul, Ben Bruce”. The list is however endless.

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