Experts call for elimination of industrial trans fats from foods

trans fats

ISLAMABAD: Experts have called for the elimination of industrially produced trans fatty acids (iTFAs) from all food supplies to protect health and save lives.

The experts said that iTFAs are clearly associated with higher disease burden due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardio-vascular diseases, hypertension, strokes, cancers, and diabetes.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) every year, trans fat intake leads to more than 500,000 deaths from cardiovascular diseases.

According to WHO data, 5 billion people were being exposed to industrial TFAs, which are commonly found in packaged foods, baked goods, cooking oils and spreads, increasing their risk of heart disease and death, the 23 January report said.

TFAs occur naturally in animal fats but the health concerns relate to industrial trans fats formed by the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils to increase their stability and shelf life.

According to a WHO 2016 report, six out of 10 deaths in Pakistan was caused by NCDs including three out of 10 deaths caused by cardiovascular diseases (CVDs).

Similarly, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimated in 2021 that Pakistan has the 3rd highest burden of type 2 diabetes worldwide with more than 33 million cases with additional 10 million termed pre diabetic.

Unhealthy food supply and consumption is among the top contributors to the growing number of overweight people leading to chronic diseases.

Focusing on this dietary risk factor to reduce NCDs in Pakistan, these science-based facts were shared by experts during a training workshop for journalists on “Understanding TFAs, Policy, Human Health, and Reporting”, organized by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) with the support of Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) and Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination.

Prominent health experts including GHAI Country Coordinator Munawar Hussain, Ministry of National Health Services National Coordinator, Nutrition & NFA Dr Khawaja Masuood Ahmed, Food Science and Technology Department, University of Karachi Assistant Professor Dr Syed Muhammad Ghufran Saeed, and CPDI Project Manager Syed Zubair Faisal Abbasi spoke during the training.

More than 28 journalists from across Pakistan participated in the training.

The trainers informed the participants about major dietary risk factors such as high percentage of transfats fats, saturated fats, sugar, and sodium in the food supply and dietary practices.

They said that Pakistan’s transfats fat intake is estimated to be the 2nd highest in the WHO’s EMRO (Eastern Mediterranean) region, as it is about 6% of daily energy intake.

Munawar Hussain said that Pakistan’s high industrially produced TFA consumption is linked to Pakistan’s high rate of mortality due to heart disease (29.1% of deaths).

“Reducing consumption of TFA has the potential to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease, particularly in those countries that consume more than 1% of total energy from TFAs,” he said.

The participants were also informed that the government of Pakistan has recently taken steps to regulate production and supply of certain types of unhealthy food in some products.

They were told that the government has notified that the limit of TFAs cannot be more than 2g per 100g of fat in Vanaspati, shortenings, bakery fats, bakery ware, rusk, and breads.

The experts said that it was a significant step, but all types of food are still not covered in the regulation. They said that it was also yet to be seen if the notified standard will be effectively implemented across Pakistan without any delay.

It was stressed that effective regulation and policy measures were needed to regulate all foods with maximum of 2 per cent of the iTFA limits.

Dr Khawaja Masuood shared the brief progress update on reduction of trans fatty acids in Pakistan. He emphasized the importance of adopting the best policy practice for eliminating industrially-produced TFA by setting 2% limit of iTFA of total fats in all foods.

“It is the “all foods” regulation which needs urgent attention from the policy circles,” he said.

“At the present moment, Pakistan’s policy environment is complex, and tedious at the same time. Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) works through a number of committees formed to examine various food items. The current practice is causing delays, and the item-by-item approach has gaps which do not allow a comprehensive regulation on iTFAs contaminating the food supply”, he said while stressing the need for one might regulatory injunction to cover all foods.

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Dr Ghufran Saeed shared his struggle and experience of trying to influence iTFA policies in Pakistan, and mentioned that it was both urgent and important to make our food supply safe for consumption by removing the silent killer.

He shared findings of numerous research studies, which highlight that the consumption of iTFAs significantly contributes to the incidence of NCDs.

CPDI Executive Director Mukhtar Ahmed Ali emphasized the importance of more media attention to unprecedented health related challenges being faced by the people of Pakistan.

He said that all stakeholders including media, government departments and civil society organizations must establish cooperative mechanisms to jointly work for public health, especially through mobilizing public support, adopting appropriate policies and regulations, and effective enforcement of food supply standards.

 “There is a strong need to bring one single mandatory regulation to set no more than 2% iTFAs limits, as the piecemeal approach does not work”, he concluded.

Afshaar Iqbal from PYCA emphasized the importance of local languages and social media platform to communicate messages on mobilizing policy support for iTFA regulations.

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