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Great progress has been made in the global elimination of industrially-produced trans fats, with nearly half the world’s population protected against the harmful effects of the product, VOA news quoted the World Health Organization (WHO) as saying.

“Five years ago, WHO called on countries and the food sector to eliminate industrially-produced trans fats from the food supply. The response has been incredible,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was quoted as saying in the 29 January report.

“So far, 53 countries have implemented best practice policies, including bans and limits on trans fats, with three more countries on the way. This removes a major health risk for at least 3.7bn people, or 46% of the world’s population.”

These policies were expected to save 183,000 lives every year, he said.

“Just five years ago, only 6% of the world’s population was protected from trans fats with similar policies,” Ghebreyesus added.

Industrially-produced trans fats are formed during partial hydrogenation of vegetable oil to produce solid fats, which are more stable and have a longer shelf life than liquid oils. It can be found in margarine, fried foods, baked products, pastries and some processed foods.

“It is also solid in your body, in your coronary artery,” Tom Frieden, president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives was quoted as saying.

“And this is why it was at one point estimated to kill half a million people per year.”

With almost half the world covered, Frieden said millions of deaths would be prevented in the coming decades. He said the next two years would be critical, noting that the original deadline for the global elimination of trans fats had been extended from 2023 to 2025 due to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Global elimination, according to published estimates, would prevent about 17.5M deaths over 25 years. The progress of reducing trans fat globally show that … non-communicable diseases can be beaten,” Frieden said.

A high intake of trans fat increases the risk of death from any cause by 34%, and from coronary heart disease by 28%, according to the WHO.

To date, five countries - Denmark, Lithuania, Poland, Saudi Arabia and Thailand - had eliminated trans fat from their food supply, VOA news wrote.

Frieden said he hoped more nations would follow the lead of these five countries in putting in place the policies, regulations and enforcement mechanisms needed to remove trans fats from global diets.

“Of the remaining [countries], just five — China, Pakistan, Russia, Indonesia, and Iran — account for about 60% of the remaining estimated burden. If these five countries were to implement [the best practice policies], the world would get to about 85% of the estimated burden, banned or trans fat-free,” he said.

According to the WHO, progress remains uneven and while many low- and middle-income countries are advancing, there is a long way to go, especially in Africa and the western Pacific.

“Africa has the lowest policy coverage, but there have been leaders with Nigeria and South Africa implementing,” Frieden said.

“South Africa is beginning the enforcement process, and Ethiopia, Ghana and Cameroon are considering regulations in the near future.”