UN health agency calls for ‘trans fat-free Americas’
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), a regional arm of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), called today for the elimination of industrial trans fats from food supplies throughout the Americas in order to prevent heart attacks.
Citing “conclusive evidence” that consuming trans fats increases the risk of heart disease and possibly the risk of sudden cardiac death and diabetes, nutrition and public health experts convened by PAHO said reducing such consumption by just 2 per cent to 4 per cent of total calories would prevent an estimated 30,000 to 225,000 heart attacks in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The negative effects of trans fats “are completely avoidable through good education and information,” said Dr. Ricardo Uauy, President of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences and chairman of a task force on the issue.
Trans fats are found primarily in foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils, whose texture and longer shelf-life make them attractive to food processors, but which have harmful effects on human health, according to the experts.
Research has shown that trans fats contribute to heart disease by raising levels of “bad cholesterol,” lowering levels of “good cholesterol,” and damaging the cells in the linings of blood vessels, contributing to inflammation and blockage and leading to heart attacks.
The PAHO task force suggested several measures to speed up the process of eliminating trans fats from food in the Americas, including eliminating industrial trans fat from food supplies and promoting unsaturated fats as an alternative.
It also recommended that governments consider mandatory labelling of trans fat content in foods, and that public health advocates work with industry to speed the phasing out of trans fats and to promote healthier oils and fats in foods.
The experts noted that several countries have begun to take action to reduce or eliminate industrially produced trans fats. Canada and the United States both require labelling of trans fat in processed foods and recommend that consumers reduce trans fat consumption to as little as possible. Meanwhile, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Paraguay and Uruguay are all considering proposals to reduce trans fat consumption by their populations.