The World Health Organization Wants Trans Fats Banned Worldwide

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Cinnamon buns with icing Ryan Benyi Photography / Getty Images

The World Health Organization announced a plan to completely eliminate industrially produced trans fats on a global scale by 2023. Some countries—including the United States—have already banned commercial use of partially hydrogenated (solidified) oils, the main source of trans fats. WHO hopes that the six-step guide it released on Monday, May 14, will help developing countries follow suit, according to the press release.

Trans fats, or trans-fatty acids, occur naturally in some foods, but artificially produced trans fats are most often found in those aforementioned partially hydrogenated oils. Snack food manufacturers often favor trans fats because they have long shelf lives. Trans fats show up in a score of commercially manufactured products: baked goods, ready-to-use frosting, deep-fried fast foods, potato chips, microwave popcorn, margarine, and refrigerated doughs—like cinnamon rolls and frozen pizzas.

There’s overwhelming scientific evidence that trans fats raise LDL-cholesterol (a.k.a. “bad” cholesterol). The WHO estimates trans fats contribute to 500,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease worldwide each year.

Now, WHO is looking to rid the entire world of trans fats, arguing that these health-wrecking additives can easily be replaced without altering the taste of products like baked goods and deep-fried foods—two of the most common bearers of trans fats.

“Why should our children have such an unsafe ingredient in their foods?” asks Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, M.D., Ph.D., and WHO Director-General. “The world is now embarking on the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition, using it as a driver for improved access to healthy food and nutrition. WHO is also using this milestone to work with governments, the food industry, academia, and civil society to make food systems healthier for future generations, including by eliminating industrially produced trans fats.”

The WHO’s step-by-step guide includes six action points, forming the acronym REPLACE:

  • REview dietary sources of industrially produced trans fats and the landscape for required policy change.
  • Promote the replacement of industrially produced trans fats with healthier fats and oils.
  • Legislate or enact regulatory actions to eliminate industrially produced trans fats.
  • Assess and monitor trans fats content in the food supply and changes in trans fat consumption in the population.
  • Create awareness of the negative health impact of trans fats among policy makers, producers, suppliers, and the public.
  • Enforce compliance of policies and regulations.

WHO hopes the plan, developed with global health group Vital Strategies, will help governments around the world “achieve the elimination of trans fat, and represent a major victory in the global fight against cardiovascular disease,” Ghebreyesus says.

Back in 2013, the FDA determined that partially hydrogenated oils are not “generally recognized as safe,” which isn’t something that anyone wants to hear about a mass-produced ingredient found in everyone’s snacktime favorites. In 2015, the FDA decided to ban them altogether in the U.S. and gave companies until June 18, 2018 to sweep their products clean of partially hydrogenated oils.

For more on the WHO’s trans-fat elimination strategy, check out the press release or comment on the plan at the organization’s website, who.int.