The World Health Organization is calling for the total elimination of trans fat — an artificial toxic chemical commonly found in packaged foods, baked goods, cooking oils, and spreads which is responsible for half a million premature deaths each year.
WHO reports 5 billion people are being exposed to this toxic product, increasing their risk of heart disease and death.
Tom Frieden, the president and chief executive officer of the public health initiative Resolve to Save Lives, said that the global elimination of trans fat from food could prevent up to 17 million deaths from cardiovascular diseases by 2040.
Frieden also spoke of the importance of distinguishing artificial trans fat, “which is a toxic chemical, which has no valid use in the food supply and should be eliminated,” from saturated fat, which he called “an inherent part of many food groups in which nobody is proposing to ban.”
To put it simply, Frieden said, “Think of artificial trans fat as the tobacco of nutrition. It has no values.”
Progress has been made since 2018 when the WHO set a goal for the global elimination of trans fat in 2023. It says 43 countries now have implemented best-practice policies for tackling trans fat in food, thus protecting 2.8 billion people from heart disease and death.
To Frieden, however, that still leaves 5 billion people at risk from the devastating health impacts of trans fat. He said governments can stop these preventable deaths by enacting WHO’s best-practice policies.
He noted several countries, especially Mexico, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, are very close to passing these lifesaving policies. According to him, all they need is a simple push to get them over the finish line.
“Policy wins in one country can help encourage other countries to take action,” Frieden noted. “We hope that leaders such as India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines will be examples for all of the South and Southeast Asia region, and we hope that Nigeria, along with South Africa, which has already banned trans fat, will be a leader for Africa.”
Friedan said experience shows the industry can adapt, innovate and replace trans fat with healthy alternatives. It is just a few large companies who continue to manufacture a toxic product.
Friedan added that these companies will come into line when they see the days of trans fat are numbered.
WHO reports most trans fat elimination policies have been implemented in high-income countries, mainly in the Americas and Europe, and that an increasing number of middle-income countries are following suit. As of now, however, no low-income countries have done so.