There are alternatives to trans fats that are so much less harmful, and there’s good evidence that banning trans fats leads to public health improvements.
The use of trans fats leads to about 500,000 cardiovascular disease deaths each year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
These products are added to fried foods, baked goods, and snack products, and cause levels of bad cholesterol in blood to spike.
Now the WHO and governments around the world are cracking down. On Monday, the WHO announced a plan calling for governments to ban industrially-produced trans fats within five years.
“Trans fat is an unnecessary toxic chemical that kills, and there’s no reason people around the world should continue to be exposed,” Dr. Tom Frieden, former head of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), now president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, said in the WHO announcement statement.
In 2001, the Danish Nutrition Council suggested the government limit trans fatsin foods to improve cardiovascular health. In 2003, a Danish law that limited the amounts of these fats in food was passed.
It worked, with death rates from cardiovascular disease falling faster there than in comparable countries.
Other European countries followed Denmark’s lead. Then, in 2006, New York City passed a law banning trans fats, phasing them out of the city by the summer of 2008.
The prompted all kinds of “Nanny Bloomberg” headlines referencing the mayor at the time. But it worked, according to a study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association Cardiology, reducing heart attack and stroke rates in the city.
Under the Obama administration, the FDA finally followed suit nationwide in 2015, with that ban going into full effect next month.
Trans fats are still commonly sold in countries throughout South Asia and Africa, where weaker regulations and stronger pressure by food producers have kept partially hydrogenated oils in circulation.
The WHO’s new policy can’t actually ban trans fats in these countries. But the hope is that the guidelines will encourage governments to enact these bans.