WHO urges more countries to get tougher on trans fat

French fries. Picture: File

French fries. Picture: File

Published Jan 30, 2024


The World Health Organization said yesterday that nearly half the world's population was now covered by solid rules limiting trans fat in foods and urged lagging countries to follow.

The WHO appealed in 2018 for industrially produced fatty acids in foods to be eliminated worldwide by 2023, amid evidence they caused 500 000 premature deaths every year.

The target was not met and was pushed back to 2025.

But now 53 countries covering 46% of the world's population are implementing best practice policies on the toxic substance – up from 11 countries and 6% in 2018.

The WHO estimates that about 183 000 lives a year are being saved.

“Trans fat has no known health benefit, but huge health risks,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“We are very pleased that so many countries have introduced policies banning or limiting trans fat in food.”

He called for other countries to follow suit and for more talks with the food industry.

The solidified oil that clogs up arteries around the heart is often used in packaged foods, baked goods, cooking oils and spreads such as margarine.

Food producers use trans fats because they have a longer shelf life and are cheaper than some alternatives.

Best practice on eliminating trans fat means either a mandatory national limit of two grams of industrially-produced trans fat per 100g 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.

Yesterday, Tedros awarded the WHO's first-ever certificates validating progress in eliminating industrially produced trans fatty-acids, during a ceremony at the UN health agency's headquarters in Geneva.

The recipients were Denmark, Lithuania, Poland, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.

To be eligible, countries must have implemented best practice, and then backed it up with rigorous monitoring and enforcement systems.

Certified countries will have to submit updated data every three years to retain their status. | AFP