WHO Calls for Global Ban on Trans Fats

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May 14, 2018

The World Health Organization is urging people around the world to remove trans fats from their diets, in the strongest possible way.

Two very large nonprofits have joined the WHO in its launch of Replace, a program calling for elimination of trans fat from the global flood supply by 2023. The nonprofits are the Bloomberg Philanthropies and Resolve to Save Lives (an adjunct of the Gates Foundation).

It is the first time that the WHO has made such a pronouncement in aid of curbing chronic disease, the organization said. The WHO said that about half a million people die prematurely each year from cardiovascular disease. Eating large amounts of trans fats has long been linked to such health problems.

Trans fatty acids, commonly shortened to trans fats, are unsaturated fats that occur naturally in some meat and dairy products. Such levels are low compared to how much is found in manmade trans fats, like partially hydrogenated oil.

Vegetable oils (corn, soy, cottonseed, etc.) are relatively inexpensive to produce and can be used to increase shelf life of prepared foods. However, the very alternative fats proposed in the past few decades to help cut down on fat intake are now being identified as the cause of chronic disease. The WHO reported that deaths from chronic diseases were outpacing deaths from infectious diseases.

Some countries are already onboard. Denmark was the first country in the world to ban trans fats, in 2004. The U.S. followed suit in 2015, giving food manufacturers until this year to comply. Other countries that have already taken action include Austria, Iceland, and Switzerland. Some American cities, notably New York City, have also enacted similar bans for restaurants.

The WHO's Replace program is an acronym that comprises a six-point action plan:

  • REview dietary sources of industrially-produced trans fats and the landscape for required policy change.
  • Promote the replacement of industrially-produced trans fats with healthier fats and oils.
  • Legislate or enact regulatory actions to eliminate industrially-produced trans fats.
  • Assess and monitor trans fats content in the food supply and changes in trans fat consumption in the population.
  • Create awareness of the negative health impact of trans fats among policy makers, producers, suppliers, and the public.
  • Enforce compliance of policies and regulations.

The WHO stresses that it is a strong call for action but, since it has no means of enforcement, it is up to individual governments to act.

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