- Consumption of trans fats cause 500,000 deaths per year: WHO
- Trans fats leads to coronary heart disease: WHO
- India one of the countries accounting for 2/3rd of trans fat linked deaths
New Delhi: “At a time when the whole world is fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take all steps possible to prevent non-communicable diseases that can make them more susceptible to the coronavirus, and cause premature death,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, as he launched the report ‘Countdown to 2023: WHO report on global trans-fat elimination 2020’ on September 9. Dr Tedros further said that WHO’s goal of eliminating trans fats by 2023 must not be delayed.
Consumption of industrially-produced trans fats are estimated to cause around 500,000 deaths per year due to coronary heart disease across the globe, the study finds.
Industrially produced trans fats are contained in hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine and ghee, and are often present in snack food, baked foods, and fried foods, as per the organisation.
Manufacturers often use trans fats as they have a longer shelf life and are cheaper than other fats. But healthier alternatives can be used that do not affect taste or cost of food, said WHO.
Findings Of The Report
As per the report, India is one of the 15 countries that account for two-thirds of the deaths linked to trans fat intake, and is yet to take urgent action for eliminating the harmful substance.
Of these 15 countries, four – Canada, Latvia, Slovenia, United States of America – have implemented WHO-recommended best-practice policies since 2017, either by setting mandatory limits for industrially produced trans fats to 2 per cent of oils and fats in all foods or banning partially hydrogenated oils.
But the remaining 11 countries – Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Republic of Korea – still need to take urgent action.
Furthermore, the study highlights two trends; first – when countries act, they overwhelmingly adopt best-practice policies rather than less restrictive ones. It also praises India’s will to act, it the study reads,
New policy measures passed and/or introduced in the past year in Brazil, Turkey and Nigeria all meet WHO’s criteria for best-practice policies. Countries, such as India, that have previously implemented less restrictive measures, are now updating policies to align with best practice.
Secondly, it states that the regional regulations that set standards for multiple countries are becoming increasingly popular. This emerges as a promising strategy for accelerating progress towards global elimination by 2023.
In 2019, the European Union passed a best-practice policy, and all 35 countries that are part of the WHO American Region/Pan American Health Organization unanimously approved a regional plan of action to eliminate industrially produced trans fats by 2025. Together, these two regional initiatives have the potential to protect an additional 1 billion people in more than 50 countries who were not previously protected by trans fat regulations, reports the study.
Overall, 58 countries so far have introduced laws that will protect 3.2 billion people from trans fats by the end of 2021. But more than 100 countries still need to take actions to remove these harmful substances from their food supplies, the WHO report said.
Dr Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, a global health organisation, says that making food trans fat-free, saves lives and money, and, by preventing heart attacks, reduces the burden on health care facilities. He said,
Despite the encouraging progress, important disparities persist in policy coverage by region and country income level. Most policy actions to date, including those passed in 2019 and 2020, have been in higher-income countries and in the WHO Regions of the Americas and Europe. Best-practice policies have been adopted by seven upper-middle-income countries and 33 high-income countries; no low-income or lower-middle-income countries have yet done so.
WHO Recommendations To The Countries To Eliminate Trans Fats
The WHO recommends that trans-fat intake be limited to less than 1 per cent of total energy intake, which translates to less than 2.2 g/day with a 2,000-calorie diet.
When it comes to achieving the target of a trans fats free world by 2023, WHO recommends three steps to countries across the globe:
- Develop and implement best-practice policies to set mandatory limits for industrially produced trans fats to 2 per cent of oils and fats in all foods
- Invest in monitoring mechanisms, lab capacity to measure and monitor trans fats in foods
- Advocate for regional or sub-regional regulations to expand the benefits of trans fat policies
Expert On India’s Status
Dr Shweta Khandelwal, Head, Nutrition Research and Additional Professor at Public Health Foundation of India talked to NDTV about India’s performance status to eliminate trans fats as per the WHO deadline of 2023.
She says that not only do trans fats prevent us from consuming good nutrients, but also pose serious health risks. Dr Khandelwal explained,
The industry produced Trans fatty acids (TFA) are a public health menace. They not only make our diets of poor quality and deprive us of good nutrition but in the long run, also predispose us to morbidities and mortality. It is well known that every 2 per cent absolute increase in energy intake from trans-fat has been associated with a 23 per cent increase in cardiovascular risk. TFA mess up our lipid metabolism – raise the worst type of bad cholesterol – small dense LDL-C; reduces levels of HDL-c, and increases the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL-c.
Dr Khandelwal further said that even in terms of maternal child health, TFA compromises foetal development by interfering with essential fatty acid metabolism; direct effects on membrane structures or metabolism, among other concerns.
When asked what can be done in India, to join WHO in its goal of eliminating trans fats by 2023, Dr Khandelwal gave 4 recommendations.
Four things that can be done to eliminate trans fats are prevention, policy, research and capacity, as per Dr Khandelwal:
- Prevention: We need to prioritise prevention by using CSR funds, celebrity endorsements, educate to reform, transform behaviours towards healthier practices. We must empower communities, focus on mass awareness campaigns, says Dr Khandelwal.
- Policy: Dr Khandelwal cites the recent reports that have noted that eating the recommended quantity of fruits and vegetables is particularly expensive and about 35-40 per cent of Indians can’t afford a healthy diet, recommended by experts. Governments need to prioritise health and nutrition while making decisions around trade, import/export and sale of food items. The fiscal policies must be in sync with making healthier food environment affordable and accessible. Moreover, clear guidelines and strict implementation of such pro-public health and nutrition policies are also equally important. The pressures from the food industry to deflect, deny or delay strong policies must be countered with preparedness on the part of high-quality evidence and cost-effectiveness data, she says.
- Research: Dr Khandelwal said that investing in research and feeding that into policy decisions is another important factor so that we have high quality evidence to inform policy and programs.
- Capacity: Strengthening surveillance and capacity to monitor the trans fats in food supply chains in an important requirement, Dr Khandelwal said. A network of labs for testing is a must. Competency and skills of food inspectors and other relevant authorities must be suitably bolstered, she signed out.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.