The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on governments and food manufacturers around the world to ban of the use of industrially-produced trans fats in all food products by 2020.
Launching REPLACE, a plan to eliminate trans fats from the global food supply, WHO said that the move was crucial to protecting the health of individuals everywhere. "Eliminating trans fats is key to protecting health and saving lives: WHO estimates that every year, trans fat intake leads to more than 500,000 deaths of people from cardiovascular disease," the organisation claimed in a statement released on their website.
First introduced in the 1950s as a replacement for butter, artificial trans fats are created when vegetable oils are hardened, in a process known as "hydrogenation". These fats are then used as an active ingredient in processed food, fried food and baked goods, predominantly because they spoil less quickly than other fats and thus extend their shelf life.
However, this comes at a cost. According to the British Dietetic Association: "Trans fats, like most saturated fats, raise blood cholesterol levels, particularly levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. Trans fats can also reduce the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, as well as increase levels of another form of blood fat called triglycerides. All of these effects of trans fats can raise your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Gram for gram, trans fats appear to increase risk of CHD more than saturated fats."
REPLACE is an acronym for the six strategic actions that WHO is enacting: reviewing dietary sources of industrially-produced trans fats; promoting their replacement with healthier options; legislating against their use; accessing and monitoring their content in foods; creating awareness of the negative health impact of trans fats, and enforcing policies and regulations.
The organisation highlighted that several countries had already achieved this, by imposing legal limits on the amount of partially hydrogenated oils, the main source of industrially-produced trans fats, contained in pre-packaged food. It also said that in Denmark, who were the first country to introduce restrictions on industrially-produced trans fats, "cardiovascular disease deaths declined more quickly than in comparable OECD countries." South Africa has also recently enacted strong legislation against the use of trans fats.
The United States has already enacted some legislation against trans fats. New York City eliminated industrially-produced trans fat a decade ago, and in 2015, the Food and Drink Administration told food companies that they have three years in which to cut their use of partially hydrogenated oils.