In a historic move, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has awarded certificates for progress in eliminating industrially produced trans fatty acids (iTFA) to five countries – Denmark, Lithuania, Poland, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.
The recognition marks the first time WHO has acknowledged nations for their best practice policies in iTFA elimination, supported by robust monitoring and enforcement systems.
Although WHO’s ambitious goal to entirely eliminate iTFA from the global food supply by the end of 2023 was not fully achieved, substantial progress has been made worldwide. Notably, in 2023 alone, seven countries – Egypt, Mexico, Moldova, Nigeria, North Macedonia, the Philippines and Ukraine – implemented new best-practice policies to eliminate iTFA.
Trans-fatty acids (TFA) pose health risks, including an increased risk of heart attacks and heart disease-related deaths. The intake of TFA has no known health benefits, and foods high in iTFA, such as fried foods, cakes, and ready meals, are often high in sugar, fat and salt.
As of now, 53 countries have effective best practice policies to address iTFA in food, significantly improving the food environment for 46% of the world’s population, compared to 6 per cent just five years ago. These policies are estimated to save approximately 183,000 lives annually.
WHO director-general, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus emphasised the health risks of trans fat, stating, “Trans-fat has no known health benefit, but huge health risks”. He congratulated Denmark, Lithuania, Poland, Saudi Arabia and Thailand for leading in monitoring and enforcing their trans-fat policies, urging other countries to follow suit.
WHO’s validation programme recognises countries that not only introduce best practice policies but also implement rigorous monitoring and enforcement systems. This monitoring is crucial for maximizing and sustaining the health benefits of iTFA elimination.
Best practices in iTFA elimination policies align with WHO criteria, limiting iTFA use in all settings. The two best-practice policy options include setting a mandatory national limit of 2 grams of iTFA per 100 grams of total fat in all foods or implementing a mandatory national ban on the production or use of partially hydrogenated oils – a significant source of trans-fat.
President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, Dr. Tom Frieden emphasised that iTFA elimination is economically, politically and technically feasible and saves lives at virtually no cost. He urged governments and the food industry to ensure that countries without regulations do not become dumping grounds for iTFA products.
Despite global progress in eliminating iTFA, over half of the world’s population remains unprotected from its harmful impacts. WHO proposes a revised target for virtual elimination of iTFA globally by 2025, emphasising best-practice policies in countries accounting for at least 90 per cent of the total global iTFA burden.
WHO remains committed to supporting countries in their efforts to eliminate iTFA, recognising it as a powerful strategy to prevent heart disease and mitigate the associated medical and economic costs. The next application cycle for the iTFA elimination validation programme is set to open in March 2024, with applications accepted on an ongoing basis.