Stakeholders for steps to control obesity-related ailments

ISLAMABAD  -  More than 50 per cent of the population in Paki­stan is currently overweight, resulting in the inci­dence of several extremely harmful ailments. Howev­er, the stakeholders have emphasized that to tackle the growing incidence of obesity in the country, it is crucial to address the root causes triggering this ep­idemic.

Revealing details of the obesity issue in the country on the eve of World Obesity Day on Sunday, the coali­tion partners of the TRANSFORM Pakistan campaign said that the recent studies have shown a disturb­ing correlation between the increasing incidence of obesity in Pakistan and the widespread consumption of foods high in trans fats. These harmful iTFAs are commonly found in processed and fast foods, snacks, and cooking oils. Since last year, the TRANSFORM Pa­kistan campaign has been at the forefront, advocat­ing for the regulation of iTFAs to create a healthier and safer dietary landscape for all Pakistanis.

The TRANSFORM Pakistan campaign is a call to ac­tion for individuals, communities, and policymakers to come together for the regulation of iTFAs in Paki­stani dietary sources. The aim is to diminish the im­pact of non-communicable diseases and associat­ed concerns, such as obesity, on the country’s public health indicators.

“Statistics from the World Health Organization re­veal that 58.1 per cent of Pakistanis are classified as overweight, and 43.9 per cent fall into the category of obesity,” said Afshar Iqbal, Director of Communi­cations and Advocacy at Pakistan Youth Change Ad­vocates (PYCA). “The estimated annual cost of man­aging obesity in Pakistan was a staggering Rs 428 billion in 2015.”

“There is a strong connection between rising obesi­ty rates and the prevalence of industrially produced Trans-Fatty Acids (iTFAs) in Pakistani dietary sourc­es,” explained Dr Saba Amjad, the CEO of Heartfile in her remarks. “These harmful substances have been linked to a range of health issues, including obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and other metabolic disor­ders,” added Mr. Munawar Hussain, the In-country Coordinator of the Global Health Advocacy Incuba­tor (GHAI).

“Among the most important steps to reduce the ris­ing tide of obesity and related diseases in Pakistan is to introduce a government-mandated regulatory framework. Such a framework should ensure that the prevalence of iTFAs in all food items is limited to 2 per cent or less of their total fat content,” emphasized Mr. Mukhtar Ahmed, the Executive Director of the Center for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI). 

The Ministry of National Health Services, Regula­tions & Coordination (MoNHR&C), also a patron of the TRANSFORM Pakistan campaign, has been ac­tively engaged with various stakeholders, including the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authori­ty (PSQCA) to ensure that a government-led manda­tory standard is soon put into place.

“In 2023, Pakistan was successfully able to regu­late iTFA content in several dietary sources including cooking oils, Vanaspati ghee, bakery shortenings and bakery wares,” shared Dr. Khawaja Masuood Ahmed, National Coordinator, Nutrition & National Fortifica­tion Alliance at MoNHSR&C. 

“We are, however, aware that many notable food items such as ultra-processed items, dairy products such as chocolates and ice-creams and street food still remain outside the ambit of this regulation. The MoNHR&C is committed to ensuring that all food items across Pakistan soon come under one unified regulation to limit the prevalence of iTFAs in our di­etary sources.”

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