WHO wants trans fats in food eliminated

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on May 15, 2018 Published on May 15, 2018

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO   -  REUTERS

In a first-of-its-kind global campaign to tackle heart diseases, the World Health Organization has kicked-off an initiative called “Replace” to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from global food supply by 2023.

The move gives India, with its high incidence of heart disease, the chance to look inwards at locally-produced healthy oils.

Unveiling the campaign in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged governments to act. “Implementing the six strategic actions in the Replace package to achieve the elimination of trans-fat will be a global win in the fight against cardiovascular disease,” he said.

“Why should our children have such an unsafe ingredient in their foods” asked Tedros. The campaign involved six steps including reviewing the dietary sources of industrially-produced trans-fat, its replacement with healthier fats and oils and legislation to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fat.

The intake of TFA results in more than 500,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease, annually. In India, that number is pegged at about 60,000 deaths, said Tom Frieden, former Head of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention told Business Line, speaking from Geneva.

The knowledge that TFA is bad for health is not new. What is new is the WHO global initiative to tackle a non-communicable disease, said Frieden, presently the President and Chief Executive of Resolve to Save Lives (an initiative of non-profit organisation Vital Strategies), involved with implementing the WHO campaign. Diets high in trans-fat increase heart disease risk by 21 per cent and deaths by 28 per cent.

Local, healthy oils

Industrially-produced trans-fat are contained in hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine and ghee, and are often present in snack food, baked foods, and fried foods. Manufacturers often use them as they have a longer shelf life than other fats. But healthier alternatives that will not affect taste or cost of food can be used, the WHO said.

Defining “elimination,” Frieden said, it meant bringing down the level of TFA in food to two per cent. Countries like Denmark did this way back in 2003 and found that even cardio vascular deaths declined. India has taken some steps in this line, like bringing down the level of TFA in vanaspati. India aims to bring its TFA levels to 5 per cent, which is higher than the global standard , he said. Nevertheless, the country has the opportunity to address its health and economics by supporting more locally produced oils.

Food companies will need to be given time to transition to the healthier alternative, Frieden said, recalling his experience as former New York City Health Commissioner, when restaurants took up to six months to transition. New York, following Denmark’s lead eliminated TFA about 10 years ago.

Published on May 15, 2018
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