•The award by the World Health Organization was instead given to five countries that have best practice policies to eliminate the trans fats (TFAs).
•The death toll from heart disease in Kenya has increased more than three-fold since 1990
Kenya has missed a major award for failing to eliminate killer cooking fats from the market.
The award by the World Health Organization was instead given to five countries that have best practice policies to eliminate trans fats, otherwise known as TFAs.
Trans fats are mostly formed through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, which causes the oil to become solid at room temperature.
Such solid fats are widely sold in Kenya and are used to make snacks such as biscuits and cakes.
Bakers prefer them as they make food tastier and keeps it fresh longer. But evidence shows they clog arteries leading to heart diseases. Healthier alternatives can be used that would not affect the taste or cost of food.
Kenya, in a Legal Notice 115 of 2015, advises limits on the amount of industrially produced trans fats in all food products.
But WHO said this is not enough. It warned that without a clear law and enforcement, Kenya risks becoming a dumping ground for killer cooking fats banned in other countries.
“Trans fat elimination is economically, politically and technically feasible and saves lives at virtually no cost to governments or consumers. This harmful compound is unnecessary and no one misses it when it is gone,” said Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives.
The organisation has partnered with WHO in trans fats elimination campaign.
"We are winning the battle against trans fats, but countries without regulations are at risk of becoming dumping grounds for TFA products. Governments and the food industry have a responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen," Frieden said.
WHO awarded its first-ever certificates to Denmark, Lithuania, Poland, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.
These five countries have best practice policies for industrially produced trans-fatty acids elimination, supported by adequate monitoring and enforcement systems.
While the ambitious target set by WHO in 2018—to fully eliminate iTFA from the global food supply by the end of 2023—was not met in most countries, there has been remarkable progress made towards this goal in every region of the world.
The deadline has since been pushed to 2025.
In 2023 alone, new best-practice policies became effective in seven countries (Egypt, Mexico, Moldova, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Philippines and Ukraine).
TFAs have no known health benefits and foods high in iTFA (such as fried foods, cakes and ready meals) are often high in sugar, fat and salt.
A total of 53 countries now have best practice policies in effect for tackling TFA in food, vastly improving the food environment for 3.7 billion people, or 46 per cent of the world’s population, as compared to six per cent just five years ago.
"Five years ago, WHO called on countries and the food sector to eliminate industrially produced trans fats from the food supply. The response has been incredible," WHO director general Tedros Ghebreyesus said Monday.
"These policies are expected to save 183,000 lives every year."
Best practices in trans fats elimination policies call for mandatory national limit of two grammes of trans fats per 100 grammes of total fat in all foods or a mandatory national ban on the production or use of partially hydrogenated oils.
Last year, researchers from Kenya and George Institute for Global Health of Australia modelled the impact of limiting industrially produced trans fat to less than two per cent of total fats in the Kenyan food supply.
Over the first ten years, the limit would cost the government and food industry approximately Sh940 million to implement but would save 2,000 lives and prevent 17,000 cases of heart disease.
This could lead to a net saving of Sh4.1 billion to the Kenyan healthcare system, the researchers said.
“Our findings show that even in Kenya, where trans fat intakes appear to be relatively low, there could still be significant health and economic benefits to trans fat elimination," Lead author and senior research fellow at George Institute Dr Matti Marklund said.
"Instead of waiting for government mandates, we urge food manufacturers to prioritise consumers’ health now by removing these dangerous fats from products.”
The death toll from heart disease in Kenya has increased more than three-fold since 1990, a trend mirrored in other African countries.
Globally, industrial trans fats are responsible for around 500,000 premature deaths from heart disease every year, mostly in low- and middle-income countries.
“Kenya now has the opportunity to protect its people from this deadly additive, save lives and money and join South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria as a leader in the drive towards a trans fat free Africa,” Frieden said.