Wednesday 16 September 2015
Trans fat ban could save 7,200 lives by 2020, says study
Researchers argue English ban would benefit heart health but other experts say consumption is well within recommended levels and falling
Banning trans fats – harmful substances added to foodstuffs to enhance their taste and extend their shelf-life – could save 7,200 lives over the next five years, medical experts claim.
Outlawing the “toxic” fats found in some cakes, biscuits and other products would cut the number of people dying from heart disease and save the NHS £265m a year, according to a study in the BMJ.
Industrial trans fatty acids are added to some processed foods even though they damage health by increasing levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and reducing levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol.
Research by academics at Lancaster, Liverpool and Oxford universities found that an outright ban on trans fats in the whole dietary chain would benefit heart health much more than simply improving food labelling or ending their use in restaurants and fast-food outlets, where they are often used in frying.
“Elimination of trans fatty acids from processed foods is an achievable target for public health policy. A total ban on trans fatty acids in England is technically feasible and one that neighbouring countries have already accomplished,” say the authors, led by Kirk Allen of Lancaster University’s medical school.
Food manufacturers have already signed up to the elimination of trans fats under the Department of Health’s responsibility deal, which relies on voluntary action by producers and retailers to tackle diet-related ill-health.
But the researchers say a ban is needed because food producers cannot be trusted to take the substances out of their products as they fear damage to their profits.
The findings have sparked a row over how common trans fats still are. Guidelines recommend that no one should get more than 1% of their daily energy intake from them, and reliable studies show that typical consumption is around 0.7% and has fallen by about half since the early 2000s, though it remains much higher – about 1.3% – among poorer people.
Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, said the authors’ estimate of up to 7,200 lives saved was “flawed because industrial trans fats are virtually absent from UK diets”. He said higher intakes in lower income groups was down to people consuming more full fat milk, butter and meat products, and trans fats that occur naturally in those food groups did not increase the risk of cardiac problems.
Christine Williams, professor of human nutrition at Reading University, said the authors had “used a highly sophisticated approach to solve a problem that no longer exists since in 2015 there are virtually no industrial trans fats in the UK food chain.”
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said trans fats did harm human health, but “UK consumption is already well within recommended levels and is falling. The majority of trans fats in our diets comes form natural sources in meat and milk.”
She said it was more important for dietary health “that we are all consuming too many calories and too much saturated fat and sugar, leading to weight gain and obesity, which increases your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes”.
A spokeswoman for the Food and Drink Federation, which represents food manufacturers, said the industry had many years ago taken decisive action to remove artificial trans fats from the food chain, “proving the success of voluntary action”. It added: “The UK government has concluded that TFAs at current intake levels do not pose a health risk to UK consumers.”
Conflicts: In the past Christine Williams’ research has been funded by various funders including industry (Unilever, Nestle and Hoffman la Roche); during 2010-13, she acted as one of three members of Pepsico UK’s Advisory Board, advising on their nutrition and health strategy.
Professor Tom Sanders, has been given £4.5 million towards his research by sugar giant Tate & Lyle.
The full BMJ paper: http://www.bmj.com/