The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released a plan to help countries wipe out trans fats from the global food supply in the next five years. The United Nations agency has in the past pushed to exterminate infectious diseases, but now it is aiming to erase a hazard linked to chronic illness.
The UN health agency said eliminating trans fats is critical to preventing deaths worldwide. The WHO 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.
Officials think it can be done in five years because the work is well under way in many countries. Denmark banned trans fats 15 years ago, and since then the United States and more than 40 other higher-income countries have been working on getting the heart-clogging additives out of their food supplies.
The WHO is now pushing middle- and lower-income countries to pick up the fight, said Dr Francesco Branca, director of the WHO’s department of nutrition for health and development.
Artificial trans fats are unhealthy substances that are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it solid, like in the creation of margarine or shortening. Health experts say they can be replaced with canola oil or other products. There are also naturally occurring trans fats in some meats and dairy products.
The WHO recommends that no more than 1% of a person’s calories come from trans fats.”Trans fats are a harmful compound that can be removed easily without major cost and without any impact on the quality of the foods,” Dr Branca said.
Countries will likely have to use regulation or legislation to compel food makers to make the switch, experts said.
Dr Tom Frieden, a former director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention who worked with WHO officials on the call to action, said the move was unprecedented.