Call for ban on trans fatty acids from processed foods
Banning trans fats in Britain would save lives, according to new research.
The artificial fat is used to improve the taste, texture and shelf-life of processed foods, although trans fats also occur naturally in dairy such as whole milk, and some meats.
New research suggests banning the fats from processed foods could save thousands of lives across the UK every year.
Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), experts said around 7,200 deaths from heart disease could be prevented in England over the next five years if the artificial fats were banned.
Other experts questioned this figure.
At the moment, there is no legal requirement to remove trans fats from foods. Some manufacturers have pledged a commitment to working towards removing trans fats through the Government's responsibility deal.
There are also no legal requirements for food manufacturers to label trans fats. Consumers are advised to check ingredients lists for hydrogenated fats or hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Experts behind the study, including from Oxford University and the Department of Public Health and Policy at Liverpool University, said voluntary commitments from industry did not go far enough and it was time for "decisive action".
They said: "A total ban on trans fatty acids in processed foods might prevent or postpone about 7,200 deaths from coronary heart disease from 2015-20 and reduce inequality in mortality from coronary heart disease by about 3,000 deaths.
"Policies to improve labelling or simply remove trans fatty acids from restaurants/ fast food could save between 1,800 and 3,500 deaths from coronary heart disease and reduce inequalities by 600 to 1500 (7%) deaths, thus making them at best half as effective.
"A regulatory policy to eliminate trans fatty acids from processed foods in England would be the most effective and equitable policy option.
"Simply continuing to rely on industry to voluntary reformulate products, however, could have negative health and economic outcomes."
Industrial trans fats are produced from plant oils (a process known as hydrogenation).
Higher intake of these fats is linked with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and death. Poorer families are more likely to consume trans fats.
Dr Tim Chico, a consultant cardiologist at the University of Sheffield, said it was clear that artificially-manufactured trans fats, "whose use only benefits the food industry", increase the risk of heart disease.
"The bottom line from this study is that a ban on trans fats would save a significant number of lives (in the thousands, not hundreds) and actually save public money," he said.
"This does not even account for the emotional costs to patients and families who have suffered the effects of heart disease."
Tom Sanders, professor of nutrition and dietetics at King's College London, said industrial trans fats were virtually absent from UK diets and the figure on the number of preventable deaths in the study was flawed.
He said higher intakes of trans fats in low income groups could mainly be explained by the fact they are more likely to have full fat milk, butter and fatty meat products.
Naturally occurring sources of trans fats were not linked to an increased risk of heart disease, he added.
Christine Williams, professor of human nutrition at the University of Reading, said total trans fat intake in the UK was now averaging 0.6% of energy, half of the figure in 2001.
Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: "There is no question that the trans fats, being added by the food industry to make their products more appealing, increase a person's risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes.
"Trans fats have no known health benefits but have clear health risks.
"This study compares the likely health benefits of three public health policies to limit the level of trans fats that the population eats and concludes, not surprisingly, that a total ban on industrial trans fats would be the most effective.
"Even though England has made steps towards reducing the levels of trans fats in our diets, other countries are well ahead of us."