Trans Fats Put on Chopping Block by UN Health Agency

MANHATTAN (CN) — Trans fats can be eliminated from the global food supply in five years, the World Health Organization announced Friday, unveiling guidelines modeled after campaigns in Denmark and New York City.

Citing a link to cardiovascular disease, the WHO estimates that trans fat intake causes more than 500,000 deaths a year. While trans fat can occur naturally in some meats and dairy products, it appears in industrial settings usually as margarine, a hardened fat that is caused by the addition of hydrogen to vegetable. Trans fats do ensure a longer shelf life for baked goods, fried foods and other snack products, but experts say that it would not affect taste or costs to swap trans fats for healthier alternatives.

Low- and middle-income countries have been slow, however, to adopt controls.

After Denmark led the way 15 years ago with the world’s first restrictions on industrially produced trans fats, New York City followed suit five years later.

Dozens of high-income countries have come on board as well, the WHO noted Monday. While some governments have imposed limits on the amount of trans fat that can be contained in packaged food, others have implemented nationwide bans on partially hydrogenated oils, the main source of industrially produced trans fats.

The WHO notes that the communities with trans fats bans have seen a corresponding decline in cardiovascular-disease deaths, and that adoption of its six-step program can wipe the problem out around the world.

Trans fats is a priority target of an agenda that guides the WHO’s work from 2019 to 2023, and the organization plans to address this agenda when the 71st World Health Assembly kicks off in Geneva on May 21, 2018.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus scheduled a Monday news conference in Geneva to discuss the topic, meanwhile, taking a page from how the group campaigned against infectious diseases years earlier.

Eliminating industrially produced trans fats is also expected to help the WHO achieve its goal of attaining a 33 percent reduction in premature death from noncommunicable diseases by 2030.

“Trans fat is an unnecessary toxic chemical that kills, and there’s no reason people around the world should continue to be exposed,” Tom Frieden, president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, said in a statement this morning through the WHO.

Monday’s statement also quotes former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as touting his administration’s successful campaign against trans fats.

“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,” Bloomberg said. “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.”

The WHO recommends that no more than 1 percent of a person’s calories come from trans fats.

Crisco shortening, which his supermarket shelves in 1911, gave Americans their first taste of trans fatty food. A misconception that the products were healthier than butter or lard led to surge in popularity that peaked in 1950s, but studies gradually revealed a link between trans fats and dangerous cholesterol levels in the blood.

When New York City banned restaurants from serving food with trans fats in 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration adopted a requirement that same year for manufacturers to list trans fat content information on food labels.

By 2010, trans fat levels in the blood of middle-aged U.S. adults dropped by nearly 60 percent.

Next month, June 18, 2018, marks the deadline set by FDA three years earlier for manufacturers to stop selling trans fatty foods. It is unclear how much progress has been made or how the rule will be enforced against noncompliant food makers.

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