UN Health Agency Aiming to Wipe Out Trans Fats Worldwide

Wed, 16 May 2018

GLOBAL - The World Health Organization has released a plan to help countries wipe out artery-clogging 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's aiming to erase a hazard linked to chronic illness.

In a statement on Monday, the UN health agency said eliminating trans fats is critical to preventing deaths worldwide. 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.

"It's at crisis level, and it's a major front in our fight now," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference in Geneva on Monday.

Officials think it can be done in five years because the work is well under way in many countries. Denmark did it 15 years ago, and since then the United States and more than 40 other higher-income countries have been working on getting the additives out of their food supplies.

The WHO is now pushing middle-and lower-income countries to pick up the fight, said 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 percent 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," Branca said.

Food makers like to use artificial trans fats because they prolong product shelf life. Trans fats are often found in the likes of doughnuts, cookies and deep-fried foods.

In 2015, the FDA took steps to finish the job of eliminating trans fats, calling for manufacturers to stop selling trans fatty foods by 18 June - a deadline that arrives next month.

"The removal of trans fats from the food supply as an additive counts as one of the major public health victories of the last decade," said Laura MacCleery, policy director for the Washington-based advocacy group, Center for Science in the Public Interest.