Elimination of trans fats in Kenya

NCDs account for more than 55 per cent of mortality in the country

In Summary

• Effective regulations are needed to address consumption of trans fats in the country

World Health Organisation reports that Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) contribute to about 71 per cent of global deaths annually. It also reports that cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) account for most of these deaths; about 17.9 million deaths annually with most of these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries.

In Kenya, it is estimated that NCDs account for more than 55 per cent of mortality in the country and 60 per cent of public hospital admissions; while an estimated 25 per cent of hospital admissions are due to CVDs and 13 per cent of autopsies revealed CVDs as cause of death.

Noncommunicable diseases are chronic conditions that are not passed from one person to another. They occur as a result of a combination of physiological, genetic, behavioural and environmental factors. Cardiovascular diseases, on the other hand, are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels and the most associated behavioural risk factors include unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, overweight and obesity. It is estimated that trans fats intake causes more than 500,000 deaths from People with CVD.

Trans fats are unsaturated fatty acids, which are made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation. When this happens, the oil is less likely to spoil and this makes food made with it have longer shelf life. Most restaurants use such oils in deep fryers because the same does not need to be changed from time to time. Foods that are high in trans fats are estimated to increase heart disease risk by 21 per cent and death by 28 per cent.

The Who in its quest to eliminate the use of trans fats globally by the year 2023 has come up with a strategy known as Replace, which will guide state members in the fight against trans fats. Replace recommends each state to review sources of trans fats; promote their replacement with healthier oils; formulate legislation aimed at eliminating trans fats; assess trends in trans fats in the food supply and changes in their consumption; create awareness among the industries and stakeholders, policymakers and consumers; and finally enforce efforts to eliminate trans fats.

Globally, countries are demonstrating their commitments towards achieving the goal of eliminating trans fats by the year 2023 through enactment of suitable laws. while some are imposing mandatory labelling of prepackaged foods to show the amount of trans fats in processed foods others are imposing legislative limits of the amount of trans fats in consumable fats. In South Korea, for instance, through the amendment to their Food Sanitation Law made it possible for the Food and Drug Administrator to impose a mandatory labelling of pre-packaged foods. This includes showing the amount of trans fats in processed foods. The following language was adopted;

‘if the food contains < 0.2g of trans fat per serving the label can read trans fats: 0 gram; if the food contains 0.2 to 0.5g of trans fat per serving, the label can read trans fat less than 0.5g or the actual gram per serving.’

In Kenya, one of the major policy directions in relation to strategic plans around health and noncommunicable diseases, specifically cardiovascular diseases, is to halt and reverse their rising burden and to minimise exposure of the risk factors. These strategies are aligned with relevant global resolutions as well as national development legislations including the Constitution of Kenya 2010.

Cardiovascular diseases have continued to threaten Kenya’s public health system as well as the country’s economic development. Due to their long duration and expensive nature of medication, most households are pushed to poverty because they end up using a large portion of their income to cater for hospital bills. This cripples the economy and at the same time, the death of CVD patients rob the country of productive men and women.

International Institute for Legislative Affairs (IILA) through their two-year grant from LINKS is seeking to address the growing problem of cardiovascular diseases in Kenya. Having been involved in tobacco control in the country, IILA looks forward to achieving similar levels of progressive achievements in the area of trans fats too. IILA’s efforts are at the heart of advocating for effective regulations, which will address consumption of trans fats in the country.

Given that the population of Kenya is urbanising rapidly, consumption of unhealthy diets with high levels of trans fats has become inescapable for most citizens. It is therefore critically important to eliminate the use and consumption of trans fats in Kenya as this will protect and save many lives.


Elizabeth Mbugua works for International Institute for Legislative Affairs’ policy development programme