A new status report from the World Health Organization (WHO) reveals that five billion people, globally, remain unprotected from harmful trans fat that increases their risk of heart disease and death. Trans fat intake is responsible for up to 500 000 premature deaths from coronary heart disease.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), there are two broad types of trans fats found in foods: naturally-occurring and artificial trans fats. Naturally-occurring trans fats are produced in the gut of some animals and foods made from these animals (milk and meat products) may contain small quantities of these fats. Artificial trans fats (or trans fatty acids) are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid.
“Trans fat has no known benefit, and huge health risks that incur huge costs for health systems,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “By contrast, eliminating trans fat is cost effective and has enormous benefits for health. Put simply, trans fat is a toxic chemical that kills, and should have no place in food. It’s time to get rid of it once and for all,” he added.
Best-practices in trans fat elimination policies follow specific criteria established by WHO and limit industrially produced trans fat in all settings. There are two best-practice policy alternatives: 1) mandatory national limit of two grams of industrially produced trans fat per 100 grams of total fat in all foods; and 2) mandatory national ban on the production or use of partially hydrogenated oils (a major source of trans fat) as an ingredient in all foods.
“Progress in eliminating trans fat is at risk of stalling, and trans fat continues to kill people,” said Dr Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives. “Every government can stop these preventable deaths by passing a best-practice policy now. The days of trans fat killing people are numbered – but governments must act to end this preventable tragedy.”
While most trans fat elimination policies to date have been implemented in higher-income countries (largely in the Americas and in Europe), an increasing number of middle-income countries are implementing or adopting these policies, including Argentina, Bangladesh, India, Paraguay, Philippines and Ukraine. Best-practice policies are also being considered in Mexico, Nigeria and Sri Lanka in 2023. If passed, Nigeria would be the second and most populous country in Africa to put a best-practice trans fat elimination policy in place. No low-income countries have yet adopted a best-practice policy to eliminate trans fat.
WHO recommends that countries focus on these four areas: adopting best-practice policy, monitoring and surveillance, healthy oil replacements and advocacy in 2023.
WHO guidance has been developed to help countries make rapid advances in these areas. The “Countdown to 2023 WHO report on global trans fat elimination”, is an annual status report published by WHO in collaboration with Resolve to Save Lives, to track progress towards the goal of trans fat elimination in 2023.