January 28: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that nine of the 16 countries – including Nepal – with the highest estimated proportion of coronary heart disease deaths caused by trans fat intake were not implementing best-practice policies.
The countries in the list include Australia, Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Ecuador, Egypt, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan and South Korea in alphabetical order.
The WHO said that billions of people are still exposed to the toxic fat which kills half a million people each year while people with conditions linked with trans fat, such as heart disease, are at more risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.
“Protecting people from these harmful substances is therefore important not just for protecting against heart disease, but also for protecting against the impact of epidemics and pandemics, said WHO Director General Ghebreyesus in his opening remarks at virtual launch event - Countdown to 2023: WHO Report on Global Trans Fat Elimination.
Industrially-produced trans fat is often used in packaged foods, baked goods, cooking oils and spreads, AFP reported.
According to the French news agency, best practice means either a mandatory national limit of two grammes of industrially-produced trans fat per 100 grammes of total fat in all foods; or a national ban on the production or use of partially-hydrogenated oils, which are a major source of trans fat.
The UN health agency said efforts to eliminate industrially-produced fat have a long way to go with five billion people exposed to toxic fat added to many food products.
The inaugural progress report of WHO showed most of the policy action against trans fat had been in high-income countries. No low-income country and only three lower-middle-income countries (India, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan) have trans fat policies, the WHO said in an earlier report.
However, lower-middle income countries have been leading the way recently, WHO Director General Ghebreyesus said.
“Last year, India became the first lower-middle income country to adopt best-practice policy. Bangladesh, Philippines and Ukraine have all passed policies that will come into force in in the coming years, and Nigeria and Sri Lanka are expected to pass their policies soon.”
The WHO called in 2018 for harmful trans fatty acids to be wiped out by 2023, the AFP reported adding, “They are thought to be responsible for around 500,000 premature deaths from coronary heart disease each year.”
"Trans fat has no known benefit, and huge health risks that incur huge costs for health systems," AFP quoted WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as saying.
"By contrast, eliminating trans fat is cost effective and has enormous benefits for health. Put simply, trans fat is a toxic chemical that kills, and should have no place in food. It's time to get rid of it once and for all," he added.
Although 43 countries with combined populations of 2.8 billion people have now implemented best-practice policies, most of the world remains unprotected, WHO said, acknowledging in an annual progress report that the goal was still out of sight.
"There are some regions of the world which do not believe the problem is there," AFP quoted Francesco Branca, WHO’s nutrition and food safety director, as saying.
"It is easy for them to take action to prevent these products being dumped onto them."