World Health Organization calls for trans fats to be eliminated within five years

Brittany Mendoza
May 17, 2018

The agency reiterated the planned ban following a call by the WHO - which refused to grant Taiwan observer status at this year's World Health Assembly, despite objections from the U.S. and the European Union - on Monday for world governments to eliminate artificial trans fats from foods by 2023.

Trans fats were first created artificially (they occur naturally in low levels in certain meat products) in the early 20th century and gained popularity in the 1950s as an alternative to butter. They are produced by using hydrogen as an additive to vegetable oil which causes liquid fats to become solid when kept at room temperature.

Pixabay/huntlhArtificial trans fats, or trans fatty acids, are made from vegetable oil hardened via a process called hydrogenation and are commonly used in fried or baked snack foods, as well as items like margarine and frostings.

Dr. Tom Frieden, who once held the position as director of the United States Center for Disease Control, says that trans fats are a chemical toxin that has resulted in a great loss of life. Denmark was the first country to ban trans fats in 2013. The WHO announced a new plan to phase out trans fats from the food supply.

"The world is now attacking major killers - especially heart disease, which kills more people than any other cause in virtually every country", said Friedman, who now chairs Resolve to Save.

"A 2016 study of New York City's ban found that restricting the industrially-produced fats drove down cardiovascular deaths by 4.5% and produced annual savings of $3.9 million per 100,000 people", the Times notes.

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Replacing trans fats with unsaturated fatty acids decreases the risk of heart disease, in part, by ameliorating the negative effects of trans fats on blood lipids. But healthier alternatives that will not affect taste or cost of food can be used, the World Health Organization said.

The method of cooking leads to trans fats in one's food and experts have suggested keeping a check on the same.

It also wants trans fats content in the food supply and changes in trans fat consumption in the population Assessed and monitored.

Despite these bans, trans fats remain popular in many emerging economies like Kenya, where local producers dominate the edible oil industry in the face of weak or vague regulations and restrictions.

Food manufacturers supplying US consumers are expected to have changed their production processes to reduce trans fat use to negligible levels by next month.

New York City quickly followed Denmark's lead. "Two years ago, IFBA member companies committed to reduce industrially produced trans fat in their products worldwide to nutritionally insignificant levels by the end of 2018". The country has witnessed improvement in the citizens' health and a reduction in deaths by way of cardiovascular disease.

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