The World Health Organization is calling for a ban on trans fats, the organization announced earlier this week.
A ban on the processed fats would save half a million lives each year, WHO says. Strokes and heart disease are both tied to diets high in trans fat.
Trans fats are made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to create a solid fat at room temperature. It's done primarily to extend the shelf-life of processed foods such as snacks and baked goods.
"Trans fat is an unnecessary toxic chemical that kills, and there's no reason people around the world should continue to be exposed" to it, Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the Los Angeles Times.
Experts say transitioning away from trans fats is not only life-saving, but financially viable as well. They say the "payoff" in improved public health outweighs the costs of using a safer oil.
According to the USDA, a reduction in trans fat could prevent nearly 30,000 premature deaths in the U.S. every year. The U.S. currently has a ban in place going into effect next month. Food manufacturers need to reformulate products to contain close to zero trans fats.
"A 2016 study of New York City's ban found that restricting the industrially-produced fats drove down cardiovascular deaths by 4.5% and produced annual savings of $3.9 million per 100,000 people," the Times notes.
But removing trans fat from processed foods won't completely eradicate the threat. Many dairy and meat products contain trans fats that have also been linked to heart disease.
WHO's program, REPLACE, identifies six steps countries can take to reduce trans fats in their food system including government legislation and NGOs working with food and oil manufacturers to help identify and replace industrial fats with healthier options.
"It's a change in the food environment that's likely to have a significant impact on public health and does not require significant behavior change," New York University food scientist Marion Nestle told the Times. "That's what you want, because behavior change is difficult."
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