30 January 2023
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a total ban on what it calls industrially produced trans fatty acids worldwide in 2023.
The health organization said the artificially produced form of fat is responsible for half a million early deaths each year. Products containing trans fat are commonly found in baked goods and cooking oils.
In 2020, the WHO said more than 58 countries have introduced laws to protect people from artificial trans fat. But, it said, more than 100 countries should remove them from their food supplies.
The health agency reported that two-thirds of the deaths that it blames on trans fat happened in 15 countries. Of these countries, Canada, Latvia, Slovenia, and the United States have set limits on or banned artificial trans fat. But many countries have yet to take action. In Asia, the countries are Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Iran, and South Korea. Others include Ecuador, Mexico and Egypt.
Tom Frieden is head of the public health organization Resolve to Save Lives. The organization is working with the WHO to remove artificial trans fat from the international food supply. He said the total removal of trans fat from food could prevent up to 17 million deaths from heart-related disease by 2040.
What is trans fat?
The American Heart Association is a non-profit group that supports heart health and research. It says there are two different kinds of trans fat
Natural trans fat forms in the gut of some animals and foods made from these animals such as milk and meat products.
Artificial trans fat, also called trans fatty acids, is created through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oils. Food makers use this lower-cost oil so food will stay fresh longer.
Trans fat can be found in foods such as donuts, cakes, cookies and deep-fried foods. Baked goods that sit on store shelves for many months but remain soft and moist usually contain trans fat. This is because the oil remains solid at room temperature.
Frieden from Resolve to Save Lives said it is important to understand the difference between artificial trans fat and saturated fat. He called trans fat "a toxic chemical" which should be completely removed from the food supply. That is different from saturated fat, a common substance in many food groups, which "nobody is proposing to ban."
Frieden said, "Think of artificial trans fat as the tobacco of nutrition. It has no values."
Efforts to remove trans fast
In 2018, the WHO launched a step-by-step guide calling on governments around the world to remove artificial trans fat from the food supply. The guide urges governments to replace trans fat with oils such as olive oil, creating public awareness of the harms of trans fat, and enforcing the anti-trans fat policies and laws.
By the end of 2020, the health agency said new laws have protected more than 3.2 billion people from the substance.
Most of the action came from wealthy countries and areas. But several low- and lower-middle-income countries including Bangladesh, India, the Philippines and Ukraine also followed WHO's best practices for artificial trans fat. India's policy covers more than 1 billion people. And Nigeria is expected to join South Africa as the second African country to remove trans fats.
Frieden noted 5 billion people are still at risk from trans fat. He said governments can stop preventable deaths by enacting WHO's best-practice policies.
"Policy wins in one country can help encourage other countries to take action," Frieden noted. He added that countries like India and Bangladesh could be examples for all of South and Southeast Asia. And Nigeria, along with South Africa, would become "a leader for Africa."
I'm Jill Robbins.
Hai Do adapted this report for VOA Learning English based on the WHO and VOA news reports.
Words in This Story
artificially –adv. manufactured by people and not created by natural processes
gut –n. the internal organs of an animal; specifically, the intestines
deep-fried –adj. cooking by completely placing a food in very hot oil
shelf –n. a flat surface in a store that hold products for sale
moist –adj. a little wet, not dry or soaked
awareness –n. having some knowledge of an issue but not fully centering attention on it
practices –n. (pl.) things that are done repeatedly to get a desired result
encourage –v. to cause someone to do something using different methods