WHO trans fat plan has protected over 3 billion people

Posted: 14 September 2020 | | No comments yet

Despite this unmitigated success, the vast majority of countries that experience heart coronary disease due to trans fats have far failed to eliminate the ingredient.

Fatty food

Consumption of industrially-produced trans fats – those contained in hardened vegetable fats such as margarine and ghee – are estimated to cause approximately half a million deaths each year due to coronary heart disease. This staggering statistic prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to instigate plans to eliminate the use of industrially-produced trans fats from the global food supply by 2023.

The WHO has reported that, so far, 58 countries have implemented laws that will protect 3.2 billion people from ingesting harmful trans fats by the end of 2021. More than 100 countries, however, have yet to take any action against the substance.

Given our current global situation, the WHO Director-General outlines why timely action is imperative.

“In a time when the whole world is fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, we must make every effort to protect people’s health. That must include taking all steps possible to prevent noncommunicable diseases that can make them more susceptible to the coronavirus, and cause premature death,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Our goal of eliminating trans fats by 2023 must not be delayed.” 

Countries legislating trans fats

Fifteen countries account for about two thirds of deaths linked to trans-fat intake worldwide. Of these, four (Canada, Latvia, Slovenia, and United States of America) have implemented WHO-recommended best-practice policies since 2017.

However, the remaining 11 countries (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Republic of Korea) are yet to take action.

The WHO has reported encouraging trends however, that give cause for optimism for achieving the 2023 goal. These are that when countries do act, they usually adopt industry best practices, rather than the less restrictive options. Secondly, there is increasing adoption by regional agencies that govern multiple countries, such as the EU and all 35 countries that are part of the WHO American Region/Pan American Health Organization. These strategies will help to accelerate full global adoption of the WHO trans-fat plan.

“With the global economic downturn, more than ever, countries are looking for best buys in public health,” said Dr Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives. “Making food trans fat-free saves lives and saves money, and, by preventing heart attacks, reduces the burden on health care facilities.” 

Despite the encouraging progress, disparities persist in policy coverage by region and country income level. Most policy actions to date, including those passed in 2019 and 2020, have been in higher-income countries and in the WHO regions of the Americas and Europe. Best-practice policies have been adopted by seven upper-middle-income countries and 33 high-income countries; no low-income or lower-middle-income countries have yet done so.

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