Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

World Health Organization launches plan to eliminate trans fats within five years

ImageCreditAudrey Helen Weber ImageCreditAudrey Helen Weber
Melissa Porter | 14 May, 2018, 22:13

Most of the American food industry stopped using artificial trans fats, a leading cause of heart disease and death globally, well in advance of a federal ban that goes into effect next month, and few consumers noticed the change in their French fries or doughnuts.

The United Nations agency has in the past pushed to exterminate infectious diseases, but now it's aiming to erase a hazard linked to chronic illness. But these fats are still commonly used in the Middle East, India, Pakistan and elsewhere, which is why it is welcome news that the World Health Organization is calling on countries to phase them out by 2023.

For example, 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. In addition, many countries have not explained the health risks that these fats pose. The initiative, dubbed REPLACE, is aimed at saving the more than 500,000 lives a year that the Geneva, Switzerland-based World Health Organization estimates are lost to cardiovascular disease caused by Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods. Companies began investigating and using industrial trans fat alternatives, including interesterified vegetable oils (saturated and unsaturated vegetable oils blended to increase the melting point); semisolid fats comprised of milk-fat fractions and sunflower oil; and stearins of different melting points derived from modified sunflower oil. In Mexico, a country that has a very high intake of trans fats, initiatives are being established to lower that. Numerous fats are in foods or oils made by local producers.

The Argentine Commission for the Elimination of Trans Fats was formed soon after.

Countries will likely have to use regulation or legislation to get food makers to make the switch, experts said.

"Implementing the six strategic actions in the Replace package will help achieve the elimination of trans fat, and represent a major victory in the global fight against cardiovascular disease".

"The world is now setting its sights on today's leading killers - particularly heart disease, which kills more people than any other cause in nearly every country", said Frieden, president of Resolve to Save Lives, a New-York-based project of an organization called Vital Strategies. Moreover, the foods that still contain trans fats in the US and Europe tend to disproportionately affect the poor, because foods containing trans fats tend to be cheaper.

Those hydrogenated fats are often used in processed foods or baked goods, because they don't spoil as quickly as other fats. Health advocates say trans fats are the most harmful fat in the food supply.

When he was New York City's health commissioner between 2002 and 2009, Frieden led its efforts to remove artificial trans fats from restaurants, which was accomplished in 2006.

Decades of studies have consistently shown that trans fats cause coronary artery disease, and some countries have already started to ban them.

There are two main sources for trans fats: natural sources (in the dairy products and meat of ruminants such as cows and sheep) and industrially-produced sources (partially hydrogenated oils). FDA officials have not said how much progress has been made or how they will enforce their rule against food makers that don't comply.