Forty countries now have best-practice trans fat elimination policies in effect, protecting 1.4 billion people from this deadly food compound, according to a report released on Tuesday by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Around 940 million people living in high-income countries are protected by these policies, but no one living in low-income countries has the same regulatory protection, so far.
Trans fat is an artificial compound that can be found in cakes, cookies, biscuits, packaged foods, cooking oils and spreads. WHO estimates that consumption of these fats cause around 500,000 deaths per year due to coronary heart disease.
According to the agency, eliminating this product from the global food supply could save lives and reduces the burden on healthcare by preventing heart attacks.
The UN agency has a global goal to eliminate it by 2023.
The report notes that, this year alone, best practice policies came into effect in Brazil, Peru, Singapore, Turkey, United Kingdom and the European Union.
Since May 2020, Bangladesh, India, Paraguay, the Philippines and Ukraine have also beefed up protective legislation.
The countries with the most trans fat in their food supply, however, have yet to give these critical policies a green light.
Currently, ten out of the 15 countries estimated to have the highest burden have no protections: Egypt, Iran, Mexico, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Bhutan, Nepal and Australia.
Milestone ‘within reach’
Launching the report, WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, warned that “the clock is ticking” to accomplish the global goal of eliminating trans fats in the next two years.
“The first-ever global elimination of a risk factor for noncommunicable diseases is within our reach. All countries must act now to protect their people from this harmful and unnecessary compound”, he argued.
The report, the third to report progress on this area, highlights encouraging progress in low and lower-middle-income countries.
Bangladesh, India, the Philippines and Ukraine became the first lower middle-income countries to pass best-practice policies. India’s policy alone covers more than 1 billion people.
Other countries made advances that are likely to result in elimination policies in the near term. Nigeria, for example, should soon become the second country in Africa to take such a step, after South Africa.