September 11, 2020 , 8:07 am

11 out of 15 countries with the most coronary heart disease deaths due to trans fats

The World Health Organization provides global leadership in public health within the United Nations system. Founded in 1948, WHO works with 194 Member States, across six regions and from more than 150 offices, to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable. Our goal for 2019-2023 is to ensure that a billion more people have universal health coverage, to protect a billion more people from health emergencies, and provide a further billion people with better health and wellbeing.

Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of the global health organization Vital Strategies, focuses on preventing deaths from cardiovascular disease and by preventing epidemics. Resolve to Save Lives is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Gates Philanthropy Partners, which is funded with support from the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation. It is led by Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible.

Two years into the World Health Organization’s (WHO) ambitious effort to eliminate industrially produced trans fats from the global food supply, the Organization reports that 58 countries so far have introduced laws that will protect 3.2 billion people from the harmful substance by the end of 2021. But more than 100 countries still need to take actions to remove these harmful substances from their food supplies.

Consumption of industrially produced trans fats are estimated to cause around 500,000 deaths per year due to coronary heart disease.

“In a time when the whole world is fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, we must make every effort to protect people’s health. That must include taking all steps possible to prevent noncommunicable diseases that can make them more susceptible to the coronavirus, and cause premature death,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Our goal of eliminating trans fats by 2023 must not be delayed.”

Fifteen countries account for approximately two thirds of the worldwide deaths linked to trans fat intake. Of these, 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% of oils and fats in all foods or banning partially hydrogenated oils (PHO).

But the remaining 11 countries (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Republic of Korea) still need to take urgent action.

The report highlights two encouraging trends. First, when countries do act, they overwhelmingly adopt best-practice policies rather than less restrictive ones. 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.

Second, regional regulations that set standards for multiple countries are becoming increasingly popular, emerging 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.

“With the global economic downturn, more than ever, countries are looking for best buys in public health,” said Dr Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives. “Making food trans fat-free, saves lives and saves money, and, by preventing heart attacks, reduces the burden on health care facilities.”

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.

Note to editors:

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. Manufacturers often use them 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.

WHO recommends that trans fat intake be limited to less than 1% of total energy intake, which translates to less than 2.2 g/day with a 2,000-calorie diet. To achieve a world free of industrially produced trans fats by 2023, WHO recommends that countries:

  • develop and implement best-practice policies to set mandatory limits for industrially produced trans fats to 2% of oils and fats in all foods or to ban partially hydrogenated oils (PHO);
  • invest in monitoring mechanisms, e.g. lab capacity to measure and monitor trans fats in foods; and
  • advocate for regional or sub-regional regulations to expand the benefits of trans fat policies.

This report launches during 2020 Global Week for Action on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) from 7 to 13 September. This year’s theme is accountability to ensure that commitments made by governments, policy makers, industries, academia, and civil society become a reality.

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