UN health agency aims to wipe out trans fats worldwide

May 14, 2018 by Mike Stobbe
UN health agency aims to wipe out trans fats worldwide
In this Aug. 8, 2007 file photo, a Milky-Way candy bar is deep-fried in oil free of trans fats at a food booth at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis. Indiana was the first state to require the switch at its state fair. On Monday, May 14, 2018, the head of the World Health Organization called on all nations to eliminate artificial trans fats from foods in the next five years. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

The World Health Organization 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's aiming to erase a hazard linked to chronic illness.

In a statement Monday, the U.N. 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 a crisis level, and it's 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 underway 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 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 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.

Countries will likely have to use regulation or legislation to get food makers to make the switch, experts said.

At the WHO news conference Monday, a representative from a leading food industry trade group said companies are working to reduce trans fats in their products.

"We call on food producers in our sector to take prompt action and we stand ready to support effective measures to work toward the elimination of industrially produced trans fats and ensure a level playing field in this area," said Rocco Rinaldi, secretary-general of the International Food and Beverage Alliance.

Dr. Tom Frieden, a former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who worked with WHO officials on the call to action, called its move unprecedented.

"The world is now setting its sights on today's leading killers—particularly heart disease, which kills more people than any other cause in almost every country," said Frieden, president of Resolve to Save Lives, a New-York-based project of an organization called Vital Strategies.

In the U.S., the first trans fatty food to hit the market was Crisco shortening, which went on sale in 1911. Trans fatty foods became increasingly popular beginning in the 1950s, partly because experts at the time thought they were healthier than cooking with butter or lard.

Food makers liked artificial trans fats because they prolonged product shelf life. They used them in doughnuts, cookies and deep-fried foods.

But studies gradually revealed that trans fats wreck cholesterol levels in the blood and drive up the risk of heart disease. Health advocates say trans fats are the most harmful fat in the food supply.

In the U.S., New York City in 2006 banned restaurants from serving food with trans fats. The same year the FDA required manufacturers to list trans fat content information on food labels.

Many manufacturers cut back, and studies showed trans fat levels in the blood of middle-aged U.S. adults fell by nearly 60 percent by the end of the decade.

In 2015, the FDA took steps to finish the job of eliminating trans fats, calling for manufacturers to stop selling trans fatty foods by June 18, 2018—a deadline that arrives next month. FDA officials have not said how much progress has been made or how they will enforce their rule against food makers that don't comply.

"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, D.C.-based advocacy group, Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Explore further: Professor studies trans fat consumption in the wake of policy shifts

Related Stories

Professor studies trans fat consumption in the wake of policy shifts

February 8, 2018
Trans fat policies have led to a decline in its availability in the global food supply, according to Rutgers School of Public Health professor Shauna Downs and colleagues from universities worldwide. Although all forms of ...

Food industry asks for exemptions to trans fat phase out

August 6, 2015
Shortening, pie crusts, brownies and microwave popcorn may be partially exempt from a government phase out of artificial trans fats—if the food industry gets its way.

Everything you need to know about trans fats

October 6, 2017
Nearly 12 years after it was first recommended, the federal government has announced its intention to ban partially hydrogenated oils in all food sold in Canada.

Q&A: What are trans fats?

November 8, 2013
You may not even know you are eating them, but trans fats will eventually be a thing of the past. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it is phasing them out, calling them a threat to public health. Some questions and ...

Ban on trans fats in diet may reduce heart attacks and stroke

April 12, 2017
People living in areas that restrict trans fats in foods had fewer hospitalizations for heart attack and stroke compared to residents in areas without restrictions, according to a study led by a Yale researcher. This finding ...

FDA ban on harmful trans fats expected soon

June 15, 2015
(HealthDay)—Harmful trans fats may soon be banished from America's food supply, following a U.S. Food and Drug Administration announcement expected any day now.

Recommended for you

Widespread declines in life expectancy across high income countries coincide with rising young adult, midlife mortality

August 15, 2018
The ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States is a key contributor to the most recent declines in life expectancy, suggests a study published by The BMJ today.

Parental life span predicts daughters living to 90 without chronic disease or disability

August 15, 2018
Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that women whose mothers lived to at least age 90 were more likely to also live to 90, free of serious diseases and disabilities.

Diets high in vegetables and fish may lower risk of multiple sclerosis

August 15, 2018
People who consume a diet high in vegetables and fish may have a reduced risk of multiple sclerosis, new research led by Curtin University has found.

Can sleeping too much lead to an early death?

August 15, 2018
A recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association has led to headlines that will make you rethink your Saturday morning sleep in.

Mixing energy drinks with alcohol could enhance the negative effects of binge drinking

August 14, 2018
A key ingredient of energy drinks could be exacerbating some of the negative effects of binge drinking according to a new study.

New study finds fake, low-quality medicines prevalent in the developing world

August 10, 2018
A new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that substandard and falsified medicines, including medicines to treat malaria, are a serious problem in much of the world. In low- and middle-income ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.