Until now, some studies suggest that milk and other dairy products are the top source of saturated fat in the Nigerian diet, contributing to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have also linked dairy to an increased risk of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers.
But former Minister of State for Health, Dr. Olorunnibe Mamora and members of the Nigerian Heart Foundation (NHF) have stressed the need for Nigerians to always consume milk, especially heart healthy milk.
Speaking at the 2023 NHF World Milk Day Round Table meeting in Lagos recently, Mamora specifically recalled, in 2001, United Nations through the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) established the World Milk Day in recognition of the importance of milk as a global food.
With the theme: “Heart Healthy Milk, Nutritional Foods and Livelihoods,” Mamora added the Day provides an opportunity to provide education on milk and create awareness in creating healthy diets.
Mamora, who is also the immediate past Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, said dairy has vital role in global food systems, providing economic, nutritional and social benefits to the population.
He said: “We need to remind ourselves that healthy lifestyle is very critical. We need to be conscious of what we eat. There is need for the production of more milk for consumption and economic growth.” He also called collaboration because government cannot do it alone.
The roundtable meeting was organised by the NHF in collaboration with the FrieslandCampina WAMCO (Three Crowns Milk) to focus on the nutritional and healthy perspective of health friendly milk products.
Several studies had shown that the crucial role of milk is that it provides bioavailable nutrients like vitamins, calcium, and calories. According to the FAO of the United Nations, malnutrition is prevalent in Nigeria because of the low consumption of milk and other dairy products.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends milk consumption of 210 litres per person yearly, while an average Nigerian consumes about eight litres of milk yearly.
Executive Director NHF, Dr. Kingsley Akinroye, said milk is food and it should be consumed from womb to adult. “It contains lots of nutrients. Not only that, in the NHF, we are particular about milk that is heart friendly, that contains low fat, low sugar, and low salt.
“We are also advocating investment in dairy farms. Dairy farmers contribute a lot to the development of the country. People in countries that prioritize dairy farming live long.”He said each local council must have a dairy farm, adding if there is a dairy farmer in every local council, many youths and women will be employed and “we are also going to raise children that would be healthy.”
He said NHF is also collaborating with that National Home Grown School Feeding Programe. “We are stressing the need to incorporate heart healthy meal in the nutrition,” he added.
Meanwhile, the NHF assertion on milk is supported by recent studies, which conclude a glass of milk daily can significantly reduce the risk of suffering from heart disease. A new global study found milk drinkers have lower levels of cholesterol, which can block arteries and lead to heart attacks or strokes. Those who drink milk each day slashed their risk of coronary heart disease by 14 per cent, the study authors said in a release.
By studying the health information of two million Britons and Americans, scientists discovered those with a mutation enabling them to consume large amounts of milk were less prone to cardiovascular illnesses.
The new finding comes as a growing body of evidence is showing that dairy products can actually be good for health. Past studies had previously concluded that dairy products were bad.
Meanwhile, some other participants at the event include: Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Consumer Advocacy for Food Safety and Nutrition Initiative (CAFSANI) among others.
Other experts at the meeting include: Chairman, NHF Executive Council, Dr. Olufemi Mobolaji-Lawal; Director, Scientific Affairs, NHF, Prof. Adebayo Adeyemi; President, Nutrition Society of Nigeria (NSN), Prof. Wasiu Afolabi; Chairman NHF Nutrition Committee, Prof. Tola Atinmo; Regional Manager, Choices International Foundation, Dr. Semnen Lambert-Osakwe; Team Lead, National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP), Aisha Digil; researcher at the Department of Animal Science, University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Prof. O.A Olorunnisomo; Director, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), Mr. Bode Oluwafemi; and Programme Director, NHF, Dr. Enitan Ademuson.
The World Milk Day Roundtable Programme brought together diverse stakeholders from the dairy industry, National Home Grown School Feeding Programme, Federal and State Government, International and National NGOs in cardiovascular health, nutrition and non-communicable diseases to discuss and address key issues surrounding milk production, consumption, benefit and sustainability.
The meeting highlighted the importance of milk as a nutritious food source and its significant role in supporting global health and wellbeing for all ages.
Throughout the roundtable programme, participants engaged in stimulating conversations and knowledge sharing, leading to valuable insights and recommendations. They also acknowledge the immense potential for innovation and collaboration to drive positive change.
One of the key outcomes was recognition of the need for increased cooperation between stakeholders including farmers, researchers, policymakers, and consumers. They said collaborative efforts are crucial to address the complex issues faced by the dairy industry and to develop sustainable practices that promote environmental stewardship, and economic viability.
“In conclusion, the World Milk Day Roundtable Meeting served as a platform for meaningful dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders in the industry. The discussions and outcomes have laid the groundwork for future initiatives aimed at enhancing sustainability, responsible consumption, and addressing the evolving needs of the global milk market. By working together, we can ensure a brighter and more sustainable future for the dairy industry, benefiting both the producers and consumers alike,” Akinroye said.
Indeed, the World Milk Day was established to recognise the importance of milk as a global food, and to celebrate the dairy sector. Each year since, the benefits of milk and dairy products have been actively promoted around the world, including how dairy supports the livelihoods of one billion people.
In 2023, World Milk Day showcased how dairy is reducing its environmental footprint, while also providing nutritious foods and livelihoods. “Together, we drove an active narrative that integrates the environmental, nutritional and societal impacts of the sector,” Akinroye said.
The NHF is a National Charity inaugurated in 1992, with focus on prevention of heart disease, research on cardiovascular diseases, heart health promotion, advocacy and action on heart issues. NHF is affiliated to the World Heart Federation (WHF) in Geneva, Switzerland, and a founding member of the African Heart Network (AHN).
NHF celebrates the yearly World Milk Day in view of the benefits of milk to heart health and nutrition, as we are committed to feeding our population with Heart healthy diets-with low saturated fat, low sugar, low sodium and zero trans fat in the diet.
The World Heart Milk Day is marked every year on June 1, and it provides an opportunity to focus attention on milk, raise awareness of dairy’s part in healthy diet, responsible food production, supporting livelihoods and communities.
The discussions at the roundtable were focused around the following questions: Healthy Food for All- Concept and Implications; NHF Heart Mark Food Labeling Programme and Heart Healthy Milk; Nutrient profile of Milk and Milk products in Nigeria; Nutritious and Healthy Milk for Children: Experience of NHGSFP; Food System and Milk Consumption in Nigeria; Provision of Healthy, nutritious milk for Nigerians: From Grass to Glass; Stakeholders and Promotion of Heart-Healthy Milk in Nigeria; and Sustainability and Dairy Farming and Livelihood in Nigeria.
Akinroye said the objectives of the roundtable include: a critical evaluation of the state of the Nigerian dairy industry; creation of awareness on the importance of heart healthy milk among Nigerians; enhancement of increased incorporation of heart healthy dairy and milk production in the National and State Home Grown and State Feeding Programme (NHGFP/SHGFP).
He said the meeting was one in a series designed to provide stakeholders to engage in discussion on how dairy is reducing its environmental footprint, while also providing nutritious foods and livelihoods. The cardiologist said the goal is to create awareness on the importance of heart healthy milk amongst Nigerians and to enhance the incorporation of ‘Health Healthy Milk’ in the NHGSFP/SHGSFP.
Reacting to the concerns about the health effects of regular milk consumption, Akinroye said: “Milk is beneficial for all age groups because of the rich supply of protein for tissues, development as well as calcium for bone health. Milk represents a world top notch because it helps provide some macro and micronutrient needed for health. It was also included by all stakeholders and consumers on the importance of milk and its inclusion in our diet especially the vulnerable group.
“Additionally, to ensure strict adherence to all safety practices as raw milk is
contaminated hence the great measure of safety. Stakeholders must employ various opportunities, including verifying of milk and its product to ensure maximum use of product delivery of heart healthy milk.
“A healthy food is one that, when ingested, provides the user with a suitable amount of macronutrients to meet their energy and psychological needs without consuming too much, as well as enough micronutrients and fluids to keep them hydrated.
“A healthy diet is one that promotes good health and prevents illness. It offers sufficiency without an excess of nutrients and health-promoting compounds from nourishing foods and forgoes the consumption of harmful compounds.”
The participants remarked that “Health is not found in the hospital, it is found in the kitchen,” implying that one is not merely what they eat, but also what they eat, digest, and absorb.
Additionally, it was stated that some of the difficulties associated with neglect of milk are caused by a lack of knowledge of foods, food handling, food processing, and food digestion and absorption.
Akinroye said the NHF Heart Mark Food Labeling Programme and Heart Healthy Milk (HMFLP) were launched in 2021. He said it is a simple way to guide consumers to select heart healthy options, promote consumer education and build partnership between NAFDAC, NHF and the Food industry.
The cardiologist said the Front Of Pack Labeling (FOPL) division was discussed from the endorsement logos to summary indicator system, nutrient-specific warning labels and nutrient-specific interpretive labels. He said food industries that want NHF to verify their product will have to get assessed by NAFDAC before NHF can work on it and the criteria is reviewed every four years.
He said the NHGSFP School feeding programmes were able to increase school enrollment and attendance and also let them assimilate and learn better. Akinroye said the impacts of the school feeding programme include: improved health and nutrition of households; enhanced equity in access and participation in education, and learning; gender transformation/women empowerment; and improved household food security and reduced poverty.
He said the programme has benefitted 54,000 schools and over 10,000,000 pupils in Nigeria; and some states in Nigeria have included milk in their food menu like Bauchi, Gombe, Kano, Kebbi and Katsina.
On the challenges in the Nigerian dairy sector, Akinroye said there is huge variation in milk supply across the year and seasons. The variation between high and low seasons can be as large as 80 per cent.
He said there is also unsuitable genetics of local breeds for milk production as well as lack of dairy knowledge and poor farm management skills hindering professionalisation of dairy farming and slowing down economic development of the dairy sector.
Akinroye said there is also lack of milk collection centre infrastructure and processing facilities close to farmers. The participants in a communiqué released at the end of the roundtable meeting adopted next steps to be considered. They include: update and revise National Guidelines for the production and consumption of heart healthy food/milk; promote consumer education to guide consumers’ choice of heart healthy milk options; encourage collaboration with industry to ensure milk is incorporated into their meal; collaboration among stakeholders for research to improve milk products; and promote front of pack labeling and heart healthy mark certification of all milk and dairy products sold and served in Nigeria.
The communiqué also called for funding for the school home grown feeding programme to ensure food rich in milk and milk products are consistently served in all schools; collaborative relationships and sustainable networks for policy formulation, modifications, regulations and guidelines for heart healthy foods and healthy communities in Nigeria; advocacy to government at national and subnational levels on the importance of being involved with dairy farming.
The roundtable meeting also recommended: ensure standardisation of heart healthy foods- milk served in schools under the home grown school feeding programme in Nigeria; collaborative efforts through public – private partnership to develop dairy farms and villages to scale up milk production in the country; capacity development of farmers especially women on Dairy preservation to prevent wastage; promote health and science journalism for the promotion of the production and serving of heart healthy milk products in Nigeria; monitoring and evaluation for continual improvement of production and service of heart healthy milk; and improve national security.