Feature Non-communicable Diseases

Trans fats: chasing a global ban

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d5567 (Published 07 September 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d5567
  1. Rebecca Coombes, features editor
  1. 1BMJ, London WC1H 9JR, UK
  1. rcoombes{at}bmj.com

They have been repeatedly called the “low hanging fruit” in global prevention of cardiovascular disease. But will this month’s New York health summit deliver the goods and help remove damaging trans fats from the world food chain? Rebecca Coombes reports

“You shouldn’t need to be a chemical engineer to buy healthy food,” says Steen Stender, the cardiologist from Copenhagen University Hospital who kick started a now global revolt against the addition of harmful fats to our daily diet.

What Professor Stender did was get industrial trans fatty acids, found in chemically modified vegetable oils that are hidden in numerous everyday foods, banned from the food chain in his native Denmark. All foodstuff, including imports, have now been free of industrial trans fats for seven years throughout the country.

“We haven’t discovered a change in the taste and prices have stayed the same,” says Professor Stender. “The bakers of Danish pastries were saying ‘they won’t flake in the same way’ with the new trans fat free recipes. But it just took one baker to find a way, and he then took out a big newspaper advert to tell everyone.”

After the Danes made it look so easy—consumers couldn’t tell the difference between the new Big Mac and the old ones—a string of countries and US states followed suit. But trans fats are still widely used around the world.

WHO therefore hopes that a ban on trans fats will be on the agenda at this month’s UN high level meeting on non-communicable diseases in New York. It has identified methods of tackling the rising levels of these diseases, which include cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Trans fats have been shown to lower levels of protective high density lipoprotein cholesterol and raise harmful low density lipoprotein cholesterol, increasing the risk of coronary heart events …

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