Get rid of trans fats, World Health Organization urges

Grant Boone
May 14, 2018

The World Health Organization is launching an initiative to eliminate trans fats from diets globally, pressing makers of foods and oils, and governments, to accelerate work to prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths from heart disease each year.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released on Monday, an initiative called REPLACE that will provide guidance for all countries on how to remove artificial trans fats from their foods, possibly leading to a worldwide eradication.

REview dietary sources of industrially-produced trans fats and the landscape for required policy change.

Businesses ranging from large processed-food manufacturers to mom-and-pop restaurants and bakeries like using trans fats - usually for frying and as shortening in baked goods - because they are low-priced and have a long shelf life.

Although many wealthier countries have in recent years taken action to reduce the level of trans fats in their food, use of trans fat in less wealthy countries where regulation - either voluntary or legal - is often non-existent remains a serious public health concern.

Frieden told reporters that New York City's success in banning trans fats from restaurants a decade ago proved that they "can be eliminated without changing the taste, availability or cost of great food".

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"The International Food and Beverage Alliance - a Geneva group representing food companies including Kellogg Co., General Mills Inc., McDonald's Corp. and Unilever NV - said its members have removed industrially produced trans fat from 98.8% of their global product portfolios". Food and food-oil manufacturers are working on replacements for the partially hydrogenated oils they've relied on for so many years, and palm, canola, and sunflower oil are widely used.

Health advocates say trans fats are the most harmful fat in the food supply.

"The removal of trans fats from the food supply as an additive counts as one of the major public health victories of the last decade", said Laura MacCleery, policy director for the Washington, D.C. -based advocacy group, Center for Science in the Public Interest.

In Denmark, the first country to mandate restrictions on industrially-produced trans fats, the trans fat content of food products declined dramatically and cardiovascular disease deaths declined more quickly than in comparable OECD countries. "Trans fat is an unnecessary toxic chemical that kills, and there's no reason people around the world should continue to be exposed".

Tedros said curbing the use of trans fats would be a centrepiece of WHO's efforts to cut deaths from noncommunicable diseases by a third before 2030, which is one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. "What we found in New York City was that industry wasn't really willing to fight us on this", Frieden said, Howard writes, because artificial trans fats are "easily replaceable".

World Health Organization recommends that the total trans fat intake be limited to less than 1% of total energy intake, which translates to less than 2.2 g/day with a 2,000-calorie diet. Diets high in trans fat increase heart disease risk by 21% and deaths by 28%.

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