The World Health Organization detailed on Monday how it plans to help countries around the world eradicate trans fatty acids from the global food supply within five years.
After having tackled infectious diseases, the UN health agency now places in its sights a danger associated with chronic diseases.
She said in a statement Monday that “the elimination of trans fatty acids is essential to protect health and save lives.” It calculates that each year, trans fatty acid intake causes more than 500,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease.
Commercially produced trans fatty acids are found in hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine and clarified butter, and are often found in snack foods, baked goods, and fried foods.
“We are talking about a crisis and it is an offensive in our current fight,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO boss, told a press conference in Geneva.
Officials believe that their goal can be achieved in five years, as work is already well advanced in several countries. Denmark did it 15 years ago; since then, the United States and more than 40 other high-income countries have been working to remove trans fats from their food supply.
WHO is now encouraging low- and middle-income countries to join the movement, said Dr Francesco Branca, director of WHO’s nutrition, health and development department.
Trans fatty acids are an unhealthy substance that forms when hydrogen is added to the vegetable oil to solidify it, for example to make margarine or shortening. Experts say they can be replaced with canola oil or other products. Trans fatty acids are also found naturally in certain meats and dairy products.
WHO recommends that total trans fat intake be limited to less than 1% of total energy intake, or less than 2.2 grams / day for a 2000 calorie diet.
“Trans fatty acids are a dangerous product that can be removed easily, inexpensively and with no effect on the quality of food,” Branca said.
Countries may, however, need to legislate to force food manufacturers to change.
At the WHO press conference on Monday, a representative of the food industry assured that it is working to reduce trans fatty acids in its products.
“We are asking food manufacturers in our industry to act quickly and we are ready to support effective measures to achieve the elimination of industrially produced trans fatty acids and ensure the equality of all in this area,” he said. says Rocco Rinaldi, Secretary General of the International Food and Beverage Alliance.
Tom Friedman, the former head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who worked with WHO on the issue, said it was an unprecedented intervention.
“The world is now attacking major killers – especially heart disease, which kills more people than any other cause in virtually every country,” said Friedman, who now chairs Resolve to Save. Lives, a project of the New York organization Vital Strategies.
Food manufacturers liked trans fatty acids, which had a longer shelf life than other fats. They used them in donuts, biscuits and fried foods.
However, studies have also shown that trans fatty acids disrupt cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Some claim that trans fatty acids are the most dangerous fats in the food supply.
The US Food and Drug Administration has asked food manufacturers to stop using trans fatty acids by June 18, 2018, but it refuses to say what progress has been made so far.
THE WHO ACTION PLAN
The REPLACE approach includes six strategic measures to eliminate industrially produced trans fatty acids quickly, completely and sustainably from the world diet:
REview: Review food sources of trans fatty acids and policy changes needed.
Promote : promote the replacement of industrially produced trans fatty acids with healthier oils and fats.
Legislate : enact laws, or take regulatory action, to eliminate industrially produced trans fatty acids.
Assess : assess and monitor the trans fatty acid content in the diet and the evolution of trans fatty acid consumption in the population.
Create awareness: educate policymakers, producers, suppliers and the general public about the health implications of trans fatty acids.
Enforce : Ensure the proper application of policies and regulations.