Even as many countries regulate trans fats, more than five billion people worldwide continued to be exposed to them at risk to their health according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Momentum is growing for the global elimination of industrially-produced trans fat, with nearly one third of the world’s population in 28 countries now protected from its harms,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “But more than two-thirds of the world’s population lacks protection from industrial trans fat in their food.” In India alone, 60,000 deaths can be attributed to exposure to trans fats according to the Disha Foundation.
Since last year, the WHO has been working towards eliminating trans fats from the global food supply by 2023. The unveiling of the REPLACE package last year was a significant step and a number of countries are on-board with achieving the zero-trans fats target. The WHO welcomed news that six countries already have restricted the production of trans fats by industry, while 24 countries including the European Union will begin to enforce trans fats regulations within the next two years.
As reported by Health Issues India earlier this year, the WHO also scored a significant victory when it convinced representatives of the International Food and Beverage Alliance (IFBA) to commit to the elimination of trans fats. In addition, IFBA representatives also pledged to reduce the quantities of salt, sugar, and saturated fats in processed foods.
These efforts mark major breakthroughs in the battle for healthy diets and, by extension, against noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). According to the WHO, “trans fat intake is responsible for more than 500,000 premature deaths from coronary heart disease each year around the world.” The observation that five billion people continue to be exposed to trans fats lend urgency to issues to strengthen regulations and limit the presence of trans fats in the public diet.
In the fight against trans fats, the WHO spotlights India. In December last year, the country unveiled regulations to lower industrial production of trans fats. As part of efforts to fulfil WHO targets, the Food Safety and Standards Association of India (FSSAI) issued a public service announcement entitled “Heart Attack Rewind”. This announcement was broadcast on major digital platforms in seventeen languages to raise public awareness.
The FSSAI plan is to bring trans fats down to three percent by weight by 2021 and two percent by 2022. The current permitted rate is five percent. However, there are a number of complications.
As noted by Down to Earth last year, “as of now, the [FSSAI] does not have any data on compliance” despite having earlier directed food-safety commissioners at the state level to audit companies. At the time Nikhil Tandon, who heads the Department of Endocrinology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), said there was an absence of data concerning trans fats consumption in India and the resultant effects on health.
Part of the issue is that when regulations are notified, their implementation can be challenging – in part due to practical challenges and in part due to industry opposition. To move towards a situation where trans fats are appropriately and sustainably regulated, in a phased and targeted manner, a resolute commitment is needed from regulators at all levels.