Experts want food companies to commit to the World Health Organisation’s goal of a global ban on transfats by end of this year, saying the measure could not only save thousands of lives but also cut costs.
For example, research indicates limiting industrially produced transfats to less than two percent of total fats in the Kenyan food supply would require an investment of about $9 million but save 2,000 lives and prevent 17,000 cases of heart disease over a 10-year period. Ultimately, it could result in a net saving of $40 million to the Kenyan healthcare system.
“We urge food manufacturers to prioritise consumers’ health now by removing these dangerous fats from products,” said Dr Matti Marklund, lead author and senior research fellow at The George Institute.
Read: Fresh push to ban artificial fats in foods by 2023
Industrial transfats are harmful substances produced during partial hydrogenation when vegetable oils are hardened into solid fats for use in processed and fried foods. These transfatty acids, a form of unsaturated fat, are commonly found in cooking oils, spreads, packaged foods and baked goods, among others.
Transfats are well-known risk factors for heart disease but can be replaced with healthier alternatives.
The WHO identifies elimination of industrial transfats as an effective intervention for preventing non-communicable diseases, including heart disease.
It highlights two best-practice policies, including setting a mandatory limit of 2g of transfat per 100g of total fat in all foods and banning the production and use of partially hydrogenated oils.
In 2018, the WHO launched an initiative aimed at eliminating industrial transfats worldwide by 2023.
It is estimated that five billion people globally, most of them in Africa, continue to consume deadly transfats as states dither on enforcement of schemes set to eliminate their manufacture.
Read: 5bn people still eating deadly trans fats
The death toll from heart disease in Kenya has increased more than three-fold since 1990, a trend that is mirrored in other African countries.
One of the challenges faced by countries has been lack of laboratory capacity to measure transfatty acids in foods, which is vital for understanding key sources and to monitor compliance. WHO is helping countries strengthen this.
Globally, industrial transfats are responsible for approximately 500,000 premature deaths from heart disease each year, with low- and middle-income countries bearing the brunt of this burden.
Only 56 countries – most of them high-income countries – have implemented best-practice policies on transfats. This leaves approximately 3.7 billion people, roughly half of the world’s population, unprotected.
“Virtually none of the people living in low-income countries enjoy these protections,” says a report by WHO.
“We’re calling on food manufacturers, the food service sector and suppliers of oils and fats to help plug the gaps where national legislation is not yet in place,” said Francesco Branca, director of the Department of Nutrition and Food Safety at the WHO.
Notably, all the East African countries are in the red, with no apparent best-practice transfat policies.
Even though Kenya has a national policy commitment to eliminate transfats, it is yet to put in place corresponding measures and has yet to establish a monitoring mechanism for mandatory transfat limits.
Source: The East African