Banishing the Silent Killer: WHO’s Battle to Eradicate Trans Fat by 2025

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a milestone report detailing the significant progress made towards the global elimination of industrially produced trans-fatty acids (TFA). Despite substantial advancements, the report underscores the need for continued efforts to meet the revised 2025 target. The full elimination of TFA could prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths annually.

CoE-EDP, VisionRICoE-EDP, VisionRI | Updated: 22-06-2024 23:27 IST | Created: 22-06-2024 23:27 IST
Banishing the Silent Killer: WHO’s Battle to Eradicate Trans Fat by 2025
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In a decisive move to tackle a silent killer lurking in our food, the World Health Organization (WHO) set an ambitious target in 2018: to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids (TFA) from the global food supply by 2023. Fast forward five years, the WHO’s "Countdown to 2023" report highlights both remarkable progress and the urgent need for further action to fully eradicate this harmful compound.

Progress on Multiple Fronts

Since the 2018 call to action, countries worldwide have responded with vigor. By 2023, best-practice policies were in place in 53 countries, protecting 46 percent of the global population. These policies, which aim to limit TFA to less than 2 grams per 100 grams of fat or to ban partially hydrogenated oils outright, have been crucial in reducing TFA intake and its associated health risks.

Notable progress was made in 2023 alone, with new policies taking effect in Egypt, Mexico, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Philippines, Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine. These countries joined the global fight against TFA, ensuring healthier food options for millions. Looking ahead, best-practice policies in Argentina, Paraguay, and Sri Lanka are set to come into effect by 2025, potentially extending protection to 47 percent of the global population.

Industry Commitment and Support

The food industry has played a pivotal role in this global health initiative. Major food companies have adhered to WHO’s TFA limits, demonstrating that replacing harmful TFA with healthier alternatives is both feasible and effective. Cargill, a leading ingredient supplier, committed to eliminating TFA from its entire product line by 2024, setting a powerful precedent for others in the industry.

WHO has supported these efforts with extensive resources, including guidelines, technical assistance, and capacity-building workshops. These efforts have empowered member states to develop and implement effective TFA policies, further driving the momentum towards global elimination.

Challenges and the Path Forward

Despite these achievements, the report makes it clear that the goal of complete TFA elimination has not yet been met. The revised target for 2025 is ambitious: best-practice policies in countries covering 90 percent of the global TFA burden and 70 percent within each region. This revised target underscores the need for continued global cooperation and stringent enforcement of existing policies.

The WHO recommends that all countries enact and enforce best-practice policies, with a particular emphasis on regions with high TFA burdens. Regional bodies are encouraged to pass mandatory TFA elimination policies, and food manufacturers should voluntarily remove TFA from all product lines. These measures are essential to prevent the shifting of TFA-containing products to unregulated markets.

Regional Progress and Remaining Gaps

Progress varies significantly across regions. In Africa, only Nigeria and South Africa have best-practice policies in effect. The report highlights the need for action in countries like Algeria, Cameroon, and Ghana to accelerate regional progress.

In the Americas, nine countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and the United States, have implemented best-practice policies, potentially preventing 91 percent of TFA-related deaths in the region. However, Central America and the Caribbean lag behind, with countries like Colombia and Venezuela needing urgent policy action.

The Eastern Mediterranean region has seen six countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, adopt best-practice policies, covering 40 percent of the regional TFA burden. Critical progress hinges on actions from Iran and Pakistan to achieve higher coverage.

Healthier Future

The WHO’s report emphasizes that while significant progress has been made, achieving global TFA elimination is within reach. Continued commitment and coordinated efforts can ensure a world free from the deadly impact of TFA, saving countless lives and enhancing public health globally. As the journey continues towards the revised 2025 target, the collaboration of governments, industries, and international bodies remains crucial in this life-saving mission.

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