Trans fats must be removed from food says World Health Organisation

The World Health Organisation (WHO) say that banning trans fats could save half a million lives every year.

Baked goods. Photo credit Leigh Patrick at

Baked goods. Photo credit Leigh Patrick at

WHO have launched a step-by-step guide for the elimination of industrially produced trans fats from the global food supply.

Trans fats are contained in hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine and ghee, and are often present in snack food, baked foods, and fried foods. Manufacturers use them as they have a longer shelf life than other fats.

There are currently no legal requirements in the UK for food manufacturers to label trans fats. The British Dietetic Association (who are a member of Sustain) say that shoppers who want to avoid eating trans fats have to check the ingredients list for hydrogenated fats or hydrogenated vegetable oils.

The World Health Organisation is calling on governments to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from the food supply by following their REPLACE action package:

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.

Partially hydrogenated oils were first introduced into the food supply in the early 20th century as a replacement for butter, and became more popular in the 1950s through 1970s with the discovery of the negative health impacts of saturated fatty acids. Partially hydrogenated oils are primarily used for deep frying and as an ingredient in baked goods; they can be replaced in both. Diets high in trans fat increase heart disease risk by 21% and deaths by 28%.

Denmark have already introduced mandatory restrictions on industrially-produced trans fats. The trans fat content of food products declined dramatically and cardiovascular disease deaths declined more quickly than in comparable OECD countries.

New York City followed Denmark’s lead and eliminated industrially produced trans fats. WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases, Michael R. Bloomberg, a three-term mayor of New York city and the founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, said:

"Banning trans fats in New York City helped reduce the number of heart attacks without changing the taste or cost of food, and eliminating their use around the world can save millions of lives. A comprehensive approach to tobacco control allowed us to make more progress globally over the last decade than almost anyone thought possible – now, a similar approach to trans fat can help us make that kind of progress against cardiovascular disease, another of the world’s leading causes of preventable death.”

WHO recommends that the total trans fat intake be limited to less than 1% of total energy intake, which translates to less than 2.2 g/day with a 2,000-calorie diet. From 4 May to 1 June 2018 WHO is running an online public consultation to review updated draft guidelines on the intake of trans-fatty acids for adult and children.

Sustain’s Children’s Food Campaign champions children’s rights, parent power and government action to improve the food environment children grow up in.

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Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.

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