May 15, 2018

Trans Fat: Safety first WHO

The World Health Organization has urged nations across the world to remove trans-fat from their food supply. The organization has introduced a new strategy to eliminate trans-fat by 2023 in a bid to prevent 500,000 deaths per year from cardiovascular disease. 

Background

Trans fat

Some meat and dairy products contain small amounts of naturally occurring trans-fat. But most trans-fat is formed through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, which causes the oil to become solid at room temperature. Medical experts have often stated that trans-fat is one of the worst kinds of fat that can be consumed by human beings. Trans-fat raises a person’s LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lowers their HDL ("good") cholesterol. The Mayo Clinic notes that a “diet laden with trans-fat increases your risk of heart disease, the leading killer of men and women.”

Doughnuts, cookies, crackers, muffins, pies and cakes are examples of foods that may contain trans-fat. Commercially fried foods and baked goods made with shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils also contain trans-fat.

WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO; French: Organisation mondiale de la santé) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is concerned with international public health. It was established on 7 April 1948 headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

Analysis

This is the first time in the WHO’s history when health officials have urged nations to completely banish an entire ingredient from the entire food supply. The organization has released a step by step strategy on how countries can completely eliminate trans-fat by 2023. This includes introducing laws that would ban trans-fat.

The concept of banning trans-fat is not new. Denmark was the first country to eliminate it from its food supply in 2004, and since then, countries across Europe and North America, including the US, have followed suit. However, trans-fat remains a staple in countries in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. The partially hydrogenated cooking oils that contain trans-fat, are commonly used in the home and by street vendors for frying and baking.

For its latest endeavour, the WHO has partnered with Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Gates Foundation-funded health non-profit Resolve to Save Lives (an initiative of Vital Strategies). "Why should our children have such an unsafe ingredient in their foods?," WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the statement.

"WHO calls on governments to use the REPLACE action package to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from the food supply,” said WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, as stated in the press release by WHO. "Implementing the six strategic actions in the REPLACE package will help achieve the elimination of Trans fat, and represent a major victory in the global fight against cardiovascular disease."

WHO’s strategy is centred on introducing healthier alternatives through legislation. This will prevent at least 500,000 deaths every year due to cardiovascular diseases, according to WHO. Wealthier nations have been able to successfully eliminate trans-fat from their food supply.

Some strategies include: review dietary sources of industrially produced trans-fats; promote the replacement of industrially produced trans-fats with healthier fats and oils; legislate actions to eliminate industrially produced trans-fats; assess and monitor trans-fats content in the food supply; create awareness of the negative health impact of trans-fats; and enforce compliance of policies.

Experts have long claimed that much of the street food sold in India is loaded with trans-fat. In 2015, Dr. Anoop Misra, chairman, Fortis C-Doc, centre of excellence for diabetes, endocrinology and metabolism stated, “There is no regulation of artificial trans-fat in India. Manufacturers merely put a label on them, mentioning the trans-fat content, but it is written in a small font that's hard to notice. In some cases, the information is misleading,”

Assessment

Our assessment is that it is imperative for governments across the world to ensure the safety of its citizens. Medical research has concluded that trans-fat plays a harmful role in a person’s health and can result in cardiovascular diseases. Thus, it should be curbed. The WHO’s strategy is particularly relevant in India where trans-fat is regularly found in street food and is even used in home cooking.

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