WHO report reveals people in high-income countries are protected by policies on trans fat elimination, but low-income countries are being left behind
Forty countries now have best-practice trans fat elimination policies in effect, protecting 1.4 billion people around the world from this deadly food compound, according to a new report released today by the World Health Organization (WHO). The report showed that 940 million people living in high-income countries are protected by best-practice policies, but no one living in low-income countries is protected.
Trans fat is an artificial compound that can be found in cakes, cookies, biscuits, packaged foods, cooking oils and spreads and is linked to increased risk of heart attacks and death from heart disease. Eliminating trans fat from the global food supply could save lives and reduces the burden on health care by preventing heart attacks.
This year, best practice policies came into effect in Brazil, Peru, Singapore, Turkey, United Kingdom and the European Union. Since May 2020, Bangladesh, India, Paraguay, the Philippines and Ukraine have also passed best-practice trans fat elimination policies, marking important progress for WHO’s initiative to achieve the global goal to eliminate industrially produced trans fat by 2023. However, the countries with the most trans fat in their food supply have yet to pass these critical policies.
“I congratulate all the countries which have developed regulations and are implementing best-practice trans fat elimination policies,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “But the clock is ticking on our call to accomplish the global goal of eliminating industrially produced trans fat by 2023. The first-ever global elimination of a risk factor for noncommunicable diseases is within our reach; all countries must act now to protect their people from this harmful and unnecessary compound.”
The third annual progress report on global trans fat elimination highlights encouraging progress in low- and lower-middle-income countries. Bangladesh, India, the Philippines and Ukraine became the first lower-middle-income countries to pass best-practice trans fat elimination policies.
India’s policy alone covers more than 1 billion people. Other countries made advances that are likely to result in the passage of trans fat elimination policies in the near term: Nigeria is also moving a policy which is expected to pass soon, making it the second country in Africa after South Africa to put a best-practice trans fat elimination policy in place.
“Governments have a responsibility to protect their people from this toxic ingredient, and it’s never been more urgent,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies. “Prioritizing trans fat elimination will reduce preventable deaths from heart disease, and reducing cardiovascular disease will also make people more resilient against infectious diseases, including COVID-19.”
Progress must be accelerated to reach WHO’s 2023 goal of eliminating industrially produced trans fat from the global food supply. In the past year, many countries were challenged with limited resources caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, restricting policy-making efforts to eliminate trans fat.
To date, 42 high-income and upper-middle-income countries successfully passed best-practice TFA policies, but only four lower-middle-income countries and no low-income countries have done so. Currently, 10 out of the 15 countries estimated to have the highest burden of industrially produced trans fat have not adopted a best-practice trans fat policy: Egypt, Iran, Mexico, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Bhutan, Nepal and Australia.
WHO recommends that countries develop, implement and enforce best-practice policies, either through setting trans fat limits or banning partially hydrogenated oils (a major source of trans fat in food).
Additional recommended approaches include:
• Investing in monitoring and surveillance
• Advocating for regional or subregional regulations to expand the benefits of trans fat policies
• Leveraging existing best-practice policies which are being implemented by a number of countries to accelerate progress in their region in reformulating food products containing trans fat and facilitating trade
• Providing technical support to build regulatory capacities that will encourage best-practice policy development, implementation and enforcement
WHO also encourages food manufacturers to begin implementing the commitments they made to eliminate industrially produced trans fat from their products, and expects major suppliers of oils and fats to step up to remove industrially produced trans fat from the products that are sold to food manufacturers globally.
Pippa Haughton, logo WHO