WHO calls for elimination of trans fat in foods by 2023

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 5/14/2018, 10:15 a.m.
The World Health Organization wants to eliminate artificial trans fats from the global food supply and has a step-by-step strategy ...
The World Health Organization wants to eliminate artificial trans fats from the global food supply and has a step-by-step strategy on how to do so by 2023.

By Jacqueline Howard, CNN

(CNN) -- The World Health Organization wants to eliminate artificial trans fats from the global food supply and has a step-by-step strategy on how to do so by 2023.

On Monday, the WHO launched an initiative called REPLACE that will provide guidance for all countries on how to remove artificial trans fats from their foods, possibly leading to a worldwide eradication.

"This initiative is meant to lead countries in establishing legislation to eliminate the trans fats," said Dr. Francesco Branca, director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development at the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland.

Artificial trans fats, or trans fatty acids, are made when vegetable oil hardens in a process called hydrogenation. Those hydrogenated fats can be used in fried foods, snack foods or baked goods, and in products such as vegetable shortening, stick margarine, coffee creamer and ready-to-use frostings. They don't spoil as quickly as other fats, but they can have some harmful health effects, such as raising levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and increasing risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

"There are countries where the risk is particularly high. In South Asian countries, they have very, very high risk of heart disease and high intakes of trans fats," Branca said.

"There are some Latin American countries, but they're already taking action. Mexico was a country where the intake was very high," he said. "South Africa was having problems, but then they established legislation. It is happening in more countries in the Middle East, but the information we have is limited."

REPLACE stands for review dietary sources, promote use of healthier fats, legislate, assess changes, create awareness and enforce.

The REPLACE package is the first time the WHO is calling for the elimination of a big lifestyle factor driving non-communicable disease, as indicated by Dr. Tedros Adhanom, director-general of the WHO, while speaking during a telebriefing on Monday.

Non-communicable diseases, also known as chronic diseases, tend to result from a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and behavioral factors, such as diet, according to WHO. Cardiovascular diseases, associated with consuming a diet high in artificial trans fats, are an example of a non-communicable disease.

"Non-communicable diseases are the world's leading cause of death," Adhanom said during the telebriefing.

"WHO is committed to supporting countries to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases."

'Only your heart will know the difference'

Dr. Tom Frieden, president and CEO of the public health initiative Resolve to Save Lives, led efforts to remove artificial trans fats from restaurants in New York as the city's health commissioner between 2002 and 2009. He knows firsthand the process of taking such action.

Resolve to Save Lives, a partner of the WHO and a part of the nonprofit Vital Strategies, plans to provide assistance to countries to support the REPLACE strategies in eliminating artificial trans fats.

"What we found in New York City was that industry wasn't really willing to fight us on this," said Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.