5 Trans Fat Takeaways from #WHA71

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GENEVA – Is there anything less appetizing than “industrial trans fats”?

Likely not, but partially hydrogenated oils have been in the food supply since the early 20th century. Manufacturers use them because they extend shelf life and improve the texture of foods. The problem is trans fats increase your risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Trans fats kill 500,000 people per year.

WHO launched a major international push earlier this month to rid the global food supply of trans fatty acids, as they are properly known. To build support for the REPLACE action plan, WHO assistant Director-General Svetlana Akselrod, corralled a group of health ministers and experts on Tuesday at the World Health Assembly to testify about the importance of the effort. Following are 5 takeaways from their talks:

Making Trans Fats History. The WHO initiative to remove trans fats from foods marks the first time that WHO has called for the elimination of a risk factor for a noncommunicable disease, said Tom Frieden, president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies. “This is historical. It's important, and it will save millions of lives,” Frieden said. “And working together, I'm confident that we can make artificial trans fat a history lesson instead of a health threat.”

The Danes Led the Way. Denmark pioneered the effort in 2003 when it considered the available evidence about the dangers of trans fats and banned them from food production, said Søren Brostrøm, Director General, Danish Health Authority. As a result, “in Denmark, approximately … 700 lives are saved annually in a small country such as ours with a population of 5.6 million,” Brostrøm said.

Argentines Catching Up Fast. Argentina in 2004 was one of the highest consumers of trans fat in the world, said Adolfo Rubinstein, Minister of Health of Argentina. It turned things around by first working to create some voluntary agreements with industry. It then labeled products and by 2010 mandated the elimination of trans fats by the end of 2014.

Thailand Goes Global. As a global leader in food production, Thailand feels it has a special responsibility, said Wanchai Sattayawuttipong, Secretary-General of the FDA in Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health. “We're concerned protecting health not only for the Thai people, but also for the world population,” he said. In committing to trans-fat elimination by next year, Thailand is making a global impact, Sattayawuttipong said.

Portugal’s On Board. Fernando Araujo, Portugal’s State Secretary for Health, announced his country’s intent to begin initial steps to begin the process to eliminate trans fats. “We commit to [making] Portugal a trans-fat free country,” Araujo said.


Ed Notes: See the latest news from #WHA71 here.  

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