Washington, DC, (PAHO) — A new plan to reduce cardiovascular disease by eliminating trans-fatty acids from industrial food production by the year 2025 was agreed by the countries of the Americas. Cardiovascular disease is currently the leading cause of death in the hemisphere.
The Action Plan to Eliminate Trans-fatty Acids from Industrial Production 2020-2025, approved by the 57th Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), promotes regulatory action to eliminate a key contributor to some 160,000 deaths in the Americas each year. Evidence shows that diets rich in trans fats increase the risk of heart disease by 21% and the risk of death by 28%.
“Trans fats are harmful substances that cause damage to peoples’ health,” said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. To eliminate them, “voluntary measures are not enough. Regulatory measures must be applied in order to protect all populations.”
In 2008, public health authorities and representatives of the food and cooking oil industries signed the Trans-fat Free Americas: Declaration of Rio de Janeiro – promoted by PAHO – in which they expressed a commitment to eliminating trans-fatty acids of industrial origin. Despite the agreement, however, trans fats are still used in at least 27 of 35 PAHO Member States.
The countries that have restricted or eliminated trans fats since this agreement are Argentina (2010), Canada (2017), Chile (2009), Colombia (2012), Ecuador (2013), United States (2015), Peru (2016), and Uruguay (2017). Currently, Bolivia is developing regulations on trans fats, and Brazil and Paraguay are at an advanced stage of a similar process.
Three regulatory options
The PAHO regional plan proposes three options to eliminate trans-fatty acids from industrial food production: 1) a ban on the use of partially hydrogenated oils; 2) a mandatory limit of 2% (or not more than 2 grams per 100 grams of total fat) on industrially-produced trans-fatty acids as a proportion of total fat content in all food products; or 3) a combination of these measures.
“In a context in which sales of processed and ultra-processed products, which are the main sources of trans fats, are increasing by 3.1% each year in the Americas, this action plan is timely and urgent,” said the Director of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health at PAHO, Anselm Hennis.
The plan also highlights the need to adopt policies on food labeling as well as strategies to raise awareness of the harmful effects of trans-fatty acids and the health benefits of eliminating them from industrial production.
What are trans fats?
Industrially produced trans fats are contained in hardened vegetable fats such as margarine and shortening and are usually present in snacks and baked or fried foods. They were introduced by manufacturers due to their longer shelf life than other fats. However, less harmful alternatives exist that do not affect either the taste or cost of food products.
Trans fats increase levels of LDL cholesterol, a biomarker that is positively related to cardiovascular disease, and lowers HDL cholesterol, known as the “good cholesterol” because it helps to eliminate “bad” cholesterol from the body.
According to WHO recommendations, intake of trans fats should be limited to less than 1% of total energy intake. This translates to less than 2.2 g per day as part of a 2000-calorie diet.