5B people at risk from trans fats, leading to heart disease: WHO

January 24, 2023, 5:00 pm

GENEVA – Five billion people globally remain unprotected from harmful trans fats, increasing their risk of heart disease and death, said a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) released on Monday.

Since WHO first called for the global elimination of industrially produced trans fats in 2018 with an elimination target set for 2023, population coverage of best-practice policies has increased almost six-fold.

"Trans fat has no known benefit and huge health risks that incur huge costs for health systems," said WHO Director-General 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."

WHO said 43 countries had implemented best-practice policies for tackling trans fats in food, with 2.8 billion people protected globally.

The report, called "Countdown to 2023 - WHO report on global trans fat elimination 2022", was published by WHO in collaboration with global health group Resolve to Save Lives.

Despite substantial progress, this still leaves 5 billion worldwide at risk of trans fat's devastating health impacts, with the global goal for its total elimination in 2023 remaining unattainable.

Industrially produced trans fats, or trans-fatty acids, are commonly found in packaged foods, baked goods, cooking oils and spreads.

500,000 premature deaths

Trans fat intake is responsible for up to 500,000 premature deaths from coronary heart disease each year around the world, according to the WHO.

"Progress in eliminating trans fat is at risk of stalling, and trans fat continues to kill people," said Tom Frieden, president 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."

Currently, nine of the 16 countries with the highest estimated proportion of coronary heart disease deaths caused by trans fat intake do not have a best-practice policy.

They are Australia, Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Ecuador, Egypt, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan and South Korea.

WHO names a mandatory national limit of 2 grams of industrially produced trans fat per 100 grams of total fat in all foods as one of best practical alternatives.

The other is a mandatory national ban on the production or use of partially hydrogenated oils, a significant source of trans fat, as an ingredient in all foods.

While most trans fat elimination policies have been implemented in higher-income countries (mainly in the Americas and Europe), many middle-income countries are also implementing or adopting these policies.

The list of countries includes Argentina, Bangladesh, India, Paraguay, the Philippines and Ukraine.

Best-practice policies are also being considered in Mexico, Nigeria and Sri Lanka in 2023.

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. (Anadolu)