‘Innovative and pioneering’: PAHO/WHO hails impact of Argentina’s trans fats regulations

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / vasata
© Getty Images / vasata
Argentina’s efforts to reduce or remove trans fat content of foods has been a great success, with almost 95% of companies in compliance by 2015, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Amendments to Argentina’s food code in 2010, el Código Alimentario Argentino (CAA), set deadlines to comply with limits on trans fats, as well as providing small and medium-sized companies with guidance on how to replace industrially-produced trans fats.

The CAA limits gave companies two years to meet the 2% limit of trans fats in margarines and vegetable oils, and five years for the 5% limit in other products. Data showed that, by 2014, almost 75% of food products were in compliance, with compliance up to 93% just one year later.

Argentina’s approach to eliminating trans fat was described as “innovative and pioneering”​ by Dr Fabio Gomes, Regional Nutrition Advisor at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Regional Office of the Americas for WHO, in an article published on the WHO website​.

The Argentinian government, “[took] the lead in enacting a mandatory approach towards the virtual elimination of trans fats from the food system,”​ he added. “This model is inspiring other countries.”

Trans fats and heart health

Trans fats – or partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) – dominated headlines for several years as regulatory agencies around the world took action against the ingredients. For example, in 2015, the US FDA revoked the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status​ of trans fats after “extensive research into the effects of PHOs, as well as input from stakeholders during the public comment period”​.

Argentina began researching trans fats in 1990 as it tried to understand the causes of the country’s high rate of heart disease, seeking causes and solutions, explained WHO. Labeling of trans fat became mandatory in 2006, with voluntary limitations in food in place until 2008.

In 2008, the PAHO-backed Trans Fat Free Americas Declaration called for standardized and mandatory labeling of trans fat across the Americas, and when possible, replacement with unsaturated fats.

A study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization​ in 2015 reported that between 301 and 1517 cardiac deaths per year were prevented by eliminating trans fats in Argentina. This would lead to lead to reductions in health care costs of between US$ 17 million to US$ 87 million every year.

“Eliminating trans fat is a priority for the entire region,”​ said Dr Gomes in the WHO article​. “Reducing trans fat consumption by just 2% to 4% of total calories could prevent an estimated 30 000 to 225 000 heart attacks in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

New WHO recommendations

The World Health Organization recently released draft recommendations for adults and children to reduce trans-fatty acid intake to less than 1% of total energy and industrially produced trans-fatty acids be removed from the global supply chain.

In the draft 13th General Programme of Work, which would guide the organization’s effort from 2019-2023, WHO argues that eliminating industrially produced trans-fatty acids, such as partially hydrogenated oils, and reducing trans fat intake, such as from dairy products and meat, could dramatically reduce the heart disease.

It estimates that every year, trans fat intake leads to more than 500,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease, and points to evidence that diets high in trans-fat increase heart disease risk by 21% and death by 28%. In addition, WHO argues there are indications that trans-fat may increase inflammation and endothelial dysfunction.

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