WHO Calling for Trans Fats Elimination in all Foods in Five Years

A Milky Way candy bar is deep-fried in oil free of trans fats at a food booth at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis

World Health Organization estimates that eating trans fats - commonly found in baked and processed foods - leads to the deaths of more than 500,000 people from heart disease every year.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is attempting to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from the global food supply. It's the first time global health officials have asked countries to completely remove an ingredient from food production. The WHO estimates that more than 500,000 people per year die from cardiovascular disease caused by trans fat intake through processed foods and some baked goods.

Trans fats occur in small amounts in nature. The study also found that replacing industrially-produced trans fat will save between US$17 million and $87 million in healthcare costs annually. Foodmakers prefer these fats because they prolong the shelf life of oils. "Trans fatty foods became increasingly popular beginning in the 1950s, partly because experts at the time thought they were healthier than cooking with butter or lard", writes the Associated Press' Mike Stobbe for the Washington Post.

However, many countries, especially those in developing and underdeveloped areas, have not followed this trend.

Denmark was the first country to outlaw industrially-produced trans fats in 2003.

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. Moreover, the foods that still contain trans fats in the USA and Europe tend to disproportionately affect the poor, because foods containing trans fats tend to be cheaper.

The feeling of urgency was echoed by scientists and medics all around the world.

"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. This is why a ban on trans fats can make a very big difference for worldwide health.

Multinational companies that make trans fats and have used them as ingredients said they have largely eliminated those oils from foods in the USA, parts of Europe and Canada, where governments already restrict their use.

As it so often happens, "REPLACE" is an acronym.

Others are to promote the replacement of industrially-produced trans fats with healthier fats and oils, Legislate or enact regulatory actions to eliminate industrially-produced trans fats, assess and monitor trans fats content in the food supply and changes in trans-fat consumption in the population, create awareness of the negative health impact of trans fats among policy makers, producers, suppliers, and the public and enforce compliance of policies and regulations. 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.

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

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