World Health Organization urges ban on industrial trans-fats by 2023

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The World Health Organization is calling for a ban on trans fats, the organization announced earlier this week.

Dr. Walter C. Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said he thought the W.H.O. initiative would likely lead to the extinction of trans fats in the near future.

"A comprehensive approach to tobacco control allowed us to make more progress globally over the last decade than nearly anyone thought possible", he said, "Now, a similar approach to trans fat can help us make that kind of progress against cardiovascular disease, another of the world's leading causes of preventable death".

Back in the 1970s, Dr. Willett was one of the first researchers to sound the alarm about trans fats, a stance that earned him scorn from the food industry and even fellow nutritionists.

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Trans fats are popular with manufacturers of fried, baked and snack foods because they have a long shelf life, but they are bad for consumers, increasing heart disease risk by 21 percent and deaths by 28 percent, a World Health Organization statement said.

The intake of TFA results in more than 500,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease, annually.

Trans fats should be less than 1 per cent of the total count (less than 2.2gm per day in a 2,000 calorie); both fats must be replaced by polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fat.

Artificial trans fats, or trans fatty acids, are formed when vegetable oil solidifies in a procedure called hydrogenation. These products increase the levels of bad LDL-cholesterol (a sign of increased cardiovascular disease risk) and lower levels of good HDL-cholesterol.

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REPLACE urges countries to assess and monitor trans fats consumption, establish laws to stamp out trans fats and raises awareness of their risk.

When people grew concerned about the potential health effects of saturated fat in the 1950s, food manufacturers began advertising products like margarine or Crisco, which got their fat from partially hydrogenated oils - trans fats - instead of saturated fats (in recent years, many companies selling these products have switched from trans fats to other alternatives). In 2004, Denmark became the first country to completely outlaw trans fats, and other countries have been getting on board more recently.

Action is needed in low and middle-income countries, where controls of use of industrially-produced trans fats are often weaker, to ensure that the benefits are felt equally around the world, the WHO statement said.

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