Progress made in eliminating trans-fats, but 5 billion still unprotected – WHO
The WHO’s report has shown that around 3.4bn people are now living in countries with policies to reduce trans fatty acids.
However, this means there are still 5bn people living in countries without policies to eliminate trans fats. The WHO, which had planned to eliminate industrially produced trans fats globally by 2023, will likely miss the mark.
To combat the presence of trans fats in foods, the WHO suggests two best-practice solutions: that countries impose a national limit of 2g of trans fats per 100g of food, and that they ban partially hydrogenated cooking oils, a major source of trans fats.
Trans fats are one of the leading causes of coronary heart disease and are responsible for 500,000 premature deaths each year. Industrially produced trans fatty acids can be found in baked and fried foods, and pre-packaged snacks and food.
In the UK, most people don't eat the recommended maximum amount, as many supermarkets have removed partially hydrogenated vegetable oils from their foods. The NHS recommends that an adult should have no more than 5g of trans fats a day.
The countries with the highest proportion of deaths linked to trans fats are Egypt, the United States of America, and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Since Denmark became the first country to commit to eliminating trans fats in 2004, significant progress has been made globally.
Since then, 60 countries have put trans fat-elimination policies in place. While many of these have been high-income countries, in 2021 India and the Philippines became the first and second lower-middle-income countries to adopt the initiatives.
Many middle-income countries, such as Bangladesh, Argentina, and Ukraine, have passed trans fats-elimination policies that will come into effect in future, and others, such as Nigeria and Mexico, are forecast to do so.
Civil society and NGOs have also been instrumental in advocating for trans fat-elimination policies. For example, organisations such as Resolve to Save Lives (RTSL) have worked closely with WHO, using events such as the United Nations Food Systems Summit to keep trans fats on the agenda.
The WHO estimates that best-practice policies around the elimination of trans fats could save around 20,400 lives per year in Africa, 108,900 per year in the Americas, and 125,100 per year in Europe.
A long way to go
However, despite the progress made, the WHO has a long way to go in eliminating trans fats worldwide.
Many countries have not adopted any measures at all. Countries such as Australia and New Zealand, which have some of the world’s highest levels of deaths linked to trans fats intake, have not adopted any policies to eliminate trans fats, and not a single low-income country has adopted best-practice policies.
“Trans fat has no known benefit, and huge health risks that incur huge costs for health systems,” said, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general. “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.”