World Health Organization urges end to use of trans fats in food

ImageCreditAudrey Helen Weber

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said eliminating trans fats from human diets would be "a global win in the fight against cardiovascular disease".

Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) wants to completely eliminate them from our diets and they've released a detailed, step-by-step plan for doing so.

Trans fats are responsible for about 540,000 deaths around the world every year - deaths that could be avoided if countries banned the use of industrially produced partially hydrogenated oils, which can be replaced with healthier options like vegetable oil.

"Multinational companies that make trans fats and have used them as ingredients said they have largely eliminated those oils from foods in the US, parts of Europe and Canada, where governments already restrict their use".

Several high-income countries have reduced industrially produced trans fats through legally imposed limits on the amount that can be contained in packaged food. Beyond the United States, countries like Canada and Denmark have taken action against the use of trans fats, but lawmakers and regulators in many other places haven't - because they are either unaware of the health risks or they are reluctant to take on the food industry. World Health Organization is also using this milestone to work with governments, the food industry, academia and civil society to make food systems healthier for future generations, including by eliminating industrially-produced trans fats.

Three inter-agency subgroups were created, leading to changes in 2010 in the Argentinian food code, el Código Alimentario Argentino (CAA), and a new guide for small and medium businesses on how to replace industrially-produced trans fats.

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"The REPLACE package is the first time the WHO is calling for the elimination of something other than a noncommunicable disease, said Dr. Tom Frieden, president and CEO of the public health initiative Resolve to Save Lives" and former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CNN's Jacqueline Howard reports. "What we found in New York City was that industry wasn't really willing to fight us on this", Frieden said, Howard writes, because artificial trans fats are "easily replaceable".

"Food makers liked artificial trans fats because they prolong product shelf life and enhance flavor". The WHO estimates that more than 500,000 people per year die from cardiovascular disease caused by trans fat intake through processed foods and some baked goods.

The Argentine Commission for the Elimination of Trans Fats was formed soon after.

But over time, health studies began to show correlations between trans fat and high cholesterol and heart failure risk. Also, this is the first time the WHO, or any worldwide health organization, has proposed a ban on a dietary component.

Trans fats increases levels of LDL-cholesterol, a well-accepted biomarker for cardiovascular disease risk. The declaration recommended mandatory labeling of trans fat content in foods, standardized across the Americas, and when possible, replacement with unsaturated fats.

Originally popularized after the negative impacts of saturated fatty acids were discovered, trans fats have fallen out of favor as their own health effects have gained prominence.

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