Home >News >India >India is yet to take urgent action for eliminating transfats: WHO report

India having one of the most coronary heart disease deaths due to trans fats is yet to take urgent action for eliminating the “harmful substances", the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

Two years into its efforts to eliminate industrially produced trans fats from the global food supply, the apex global public health agency in a report titled --Countdown to 2023: WHO report on global trans-fat elimination 2020 released on Wednesday said that 58 countries so far have introduced laws that will protect 3.2 billion people from the harmful substance by the end of 2021. But more than 100 countries still need to take actions to remove these harmful substances from their food supplies. Consumption of industrially produced trans fats are estimated to cause around 500,000 deaths per year due to coronary heart disease, the WHO report said.

“In a time when the whole world is fighting the covid-19 pandemic, we must take all steps possible to prevent noncommunicable diseases that can make them more susceptible to the coronavirus, and cause premature death," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus WHO Director-General.

The WHO said that 15 countries account for approximately two thirds of the worldwide deaths linked to trans-fat intake. Of these, four (Canada, Latvia, Slovenia, United States of America) have implemented WHO-recommended best-practice policies since 2017, either by setting mandatory limits for industrially produced trans fats to 2% of oils and fats in all foods or banning partially hydrogenated oils (PHO).

“But the remaining 11 countries (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Republic of Korea) still need to take urgent action," the WHO said.

The report highlights two encouraging trends. First, when countries do act, they overwhelmingly adopt best-practice policies rather than less restrictive ones. New policy measures passed and/or introduced in the past year in Brazil, Turkey and Nigeria all meet WHO’s criteria for best-practice policies. Countries, such as India, that have previously implemented less restrictive measures, are now updating policies to align with best practice.

In 2011, India passed regulations that set a TFA limit of 10% in oils and fats, which was further reduced to 5% in 2015. In December 2018, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) proposed reducing this limit to 2% and eliminating industrially produced TFA in the food supply by 2022, a year ahead of the global target. In August 2019, the FSSAI proposed aligning India’s regulations with global best practice and notified for public comment draft regulations that apply the 2% TFA limit to all food products by January 2022. India has had less restrictive limits in effect since 2013, the WHO said.

Industrially produced trans fats are contained in hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine and ghee, and are often present in snack food, baked foods, and fried foods. Manufacturers often use them as they have a longer shelf life and are cheaper than other fats. But healthier alternatives can be used that do not affect taste or cost of food. WHO recommends that trans fat intake be limited to less than 1% of total energy intake, which translates to less than 2.2 g/day with a 2,000-calorie diet.

To achieve a world free of industrially produced trans fats by 2023, WHO recommends that countries should develop and implement best-practice policies to set mandatory limits for industrially produced trans fats to 2% of oils and fats in all foods or to ban partially hydrogenated oils (PHO). They should invest in monitoring mechanisms, e.g. lab capacity to measure and monitor trans fats in foods; and advocate for regional or sub-regional regulations to expand the benefits of trans fat policies.

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