The World Health Organization (WHO) has awarded its first-ever certificates to five countries, recognizing their substantial progress in eliminating industrially produced trans fatty acids (iTFA). Denmark, Lithuania, Poland, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand have all demonstrated the implementation of best practice policies, supported by robust monitoring and enforcement systems, in their bid to eradicate iTFA.
Although the ambitious target set by WHO in 2018 to eliminate iTFA from the global food supply by the end of 2023 was not fully achieved, remarkable progress has been made worldwide. In 2023 alone, seven countries—Egypt, Mexico, Moldova, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Philippines, and Ukraine—implemented new best-practice policies. Trans-fatty acids are known to pose significant health risks, including an increased risk of heart attacks and heart disease-related deaths.
The total number of countries with effective best practice policies to address iTFA has now reached 53, benefiting approximately 3.7 billion people, or 46% of the global population. This marks a substantial improvement from just 6% coverage five years ago. These policies are anticipated to save around 183,000 lives annually.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, emphasized the health risks associated with trans fats, stating, “Trans fat has no known health benefit, but huge health risks.” He applauded the efforts of Denmark, Lithuania, Poland, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand for leading the world in monitoring and enforcing their trans fat policies, urging other nations to follow suit.
The WHO validation program acknowledges countries that go beyond introducing best practice policies, ensuring rigorous monitoring and enforcement systems. Monitoring and enforcing compliance with policies are deemed critical to maximize and sustain the health benefits of iTFA elimination.
Despite notable achievements in eliminating iTFA globally, over half of the world’s population remains exposed to its harmful impacts, increasing the risk of heart disease. WHO proposes a revised target for virtual elimination of iTFA globally by 2025, emphasizing the need for best-practice elimination policies in countries representing at least 90% of the global iTFA burden.
Dr Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, emphasized the feasibility of trans fat elimination and its significant impact on preventing heart disease. He noted that the harmful compound is unnecessary and that countries without regulations are at risk of becoming dumping grounds for iTFA products.
WHO encourages not only countries but also food manufacturers to eliminate iTFA from their products. Despite the progress made, the organization remains committed to supporting countries in their efforts and celebrating their achievements in the ongoing battle against trans fats. The next application cycle for the iTFA elimination validation program is set to open in March 2024, with continuous applications welcomed.