Nutrition Experts Call on Food Industry to Support "Trans Fat Free Americas"

26 Mar 2008

Washington, D.C., September 26, 2007 (PAHO)—Experts on nutrition and public health are calling on leaders in the food industry to speed up the elimination of industrially produced trans fatty acids from the foods they produce and distribute, and to become partners in promoting healthy diets throughout the Americas.

The call came at a meeting convened this week by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to present the conclusions of a Trans Fat Free Americas Task Force to food producers and distributors and to hear industry plans for phasing trans fats out of food supplies in the hemisphere.

Many of the companies represented have already taken steps to phase trans fats out of their products. PAHO Assistant Director Dr. Carissa Etienne applauded them, saying: "I would like to congratulate the wide range of voluntary actions that your respective companies have taken or are considering in order to eliminate industrially-produced trans fatty acids from your products that are widely available in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean. These actions indicate your willingness to respond to consumer health concerns that will also serve to increase consumer confidence and enhance brand reputation."

Among companies represented at the meeting were Burger King Corporation, Cargill Inc., ConMéxico (Consejo Mexicano de la Industria de Productos de Consumo A.C.), Grupo ARCOR, Kraft Foods, Kellogg Company, McDonald's Corporation, Nestlé, PepsiCo, SADIA, SA, Watt's SA and Yum! Brands, Inc. Participants, including representatives of restaurant chains, oil producers, and food manufacturers, gave briefings on their initiatives and progress in phasing out industrially-produced trans fatty acids (TFAs) in the Americas, and on alternatives and potential obstacles.

Most of the food industry representatives estimated that elimination will take place by the end of 2008. It was noted, however, that phasing out trans fats completely will require additional action to eliminate them in oils used for home cooking and in bakery products, which account for about two-thirds of consumption of TFA in the Americas. Participants also discussed the need for standardization of regulatory norms in the Southern Hemisphere, heightened consumer awareness and education on TFA and diet and health-related issues, and their commitment to ongoing collaboration with PAHO in other areas to improve health outcomes.

"Educating consumers can only go so far in addressing this problem. We also have to create a more favorable environment in which healthy choices are easier choices," said Dr. Ricardo Uauy, president of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences and chairman of the PAHO task force that called for a halt in consumption of foods with trans fats, which didn't exist 100 years ago.

The PAHO task force cited "conclusive evidence" that consuming trans fat increases the risk of heart disease and possibly the risk of sudden cardiac death and diabetes. The task force's report, issued in June, estimated that a reduction in trans fat consumption by just 2 percent to 4 percent of total calories could prevent an estimated 30,000 to 225,000 heart attacks in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Trans fats are found primarily in foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils, whose texture and longer shelf life make them attractive to food processors. 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).

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).

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