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PAHO Task Force Calls for "Trans Fat Free Americas"

Nutrition experts urge action by governments and industry to phase trans fatty acids out of foods

Washington, D.C., June 7, 2007 (PAHO)—Experts on nutrition and public health convened by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) called today for the elimination of industrial trans fatty acids from food supplies throughout the Americas. The call for action followed the release of a special task force report in Santiago, Chile.

"The negative effects of trans fats produce high rates of cardiovascular disease resulting in heart attacks and stroke, often fatal, and are completely avoidable through good education and information," said Dr. Ricardo Uauy, president of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences and chairman of the task force. He called for a halt in the consumption of foods with trans fats, which didn't exist 100 years ago.

Dr. Juan Manuel Sotelo, PAHO/WHO Representative in Chile, outlined the Organization's efforts to cut trans fats and prevent chronic disease, including the PAHO campaign with television personality Don Francisco, "Let's eat healthy, live well, and get moving, America," an unprecedented campaign against obesity and its devastating health impact in Latin America.

Dr. Lidia Amarales, Undersecretary of Public Health of Chile, said Chile has made advances in cutting trans fats with obligatory labels on foods and public education, and more foods are now available without trans fats, including margarines, infant foods, breads and others. She said the Ministry of Health is collaborating on these tasks with food producers, the restaurant industry, and academia, "but there is still work to be done and this declaration presents a larger challenge."

Experts from the PAHO task force cited "conclusive evidence" that consuming trans fatty acids, or trans fats, increases the risk of heart disease and possibly the risk of sudden cardiac death and diabetes. Reducing trans fat consumption by just 2 percent to 4 percent of total calories would prevent an estimated 30,000 to 225,000 heart attacks in Latin America and the Caribbean, the report said.

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. Research has shown that trans fats contribute to heart disease by raising levels of "bad cholesterol" (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL), lowering levels of "good cholesterol" (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL), and damaging the cells in the linings of blood vessels, contributing to inflammation and blockage and leading to heart attacks.

Several countries have begun to take action to reduce or eliminate industrially produced trans fats. Denmark passed legislation last year that limits trans fats to 2 percent of total fat in all foods sold in the country. Canada and the United States both require labeling 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.

A number of private companies have also taken steps to reduce the use of trans fats. McDonald's has eliminated trans fats from its restaurants in Argentina, Denmark, France, and Russia, while Unilever and Kraft Foods have announced their intention to eliminate trans fats from all their products. Oil producers in Costa Rica and Uruguay are currently marketing trans fat-free oils as a way of reducing trans fat consumption. To speed up the process of eliminating trans fats from food in the Americas, the PAHO task force made the following recommendations:

  • Industrial trans fat should be eliminated from food supplies in the Americas, with unsaturated fats promoted as an alternative.
  • This will require government regulatory action in addition to voluntary action by industry.
  • Trans fat should be legally limited to less than 2 percent of total fat in vegetable oils and soft margarines and to less than 5 percent in other foods.
  • Measures that governments should consider include mandatory labeling of trans fat content in foods, the establishment of standards for product health claims, and mandatory disclosure of types of fats in foods served in restaurants, food aid programs, schools, and other food service providers.
  • Public health advocates should work with industry to speed the phasing out of trans fats and to promote healthier oils and fats in foods.
  • Governments should provide special support to help small food industries and services eliminate trans fats and adopt healthier alternatives.
  • PAHO/WHO should lead hemispheric efforts toward a Trans Fat Free Americas by assigning the initiative high priority on the regional health agenda and by helping member countries develop policies, regulations, and legislation needed to implement the initiative and measure its progress.

Click here to read the full report of the Task Force on Trans Fat Free Americas.

Additional Information: PAHO Publications

The Pan American Health Organization, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. It serves as the Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO).

For more information please contact , PAHO, Public Information, 202-974-3459.

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