The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a plan to help countries wipe out trans fats from the global food supply in the next five years. They estimate that the consumption of eating trans fats which are commonly found in baked and processed foods, leads to the deaths of more than 500,000 people from heart disease every year.

The World Health Organization believe that the five year deadline is totally achievable due to the fact that many countries have already been working hard to eliminate trans fats for a number of years now. In fact Denmark banned trans fats 15 years ago, and since then the United States and more than 40 other higher income countries have been working on getting the heart-clogging additives out of their food supplies.

Dr Francesco Branca, director of the WHO’s department of nutrition for health and development, said they are now pushing middle and lower income countries to pick up the fight.

Artificial trans fats are unhealthy substances that are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it solid, a good example is margarine. Health experts say they can be replaced with canola oil or other products just as successfully. There are also naturally occurring trans fats in some meats and dairy products.

The WHO recommends that no more than 1% of a person’s calories should come from trans fats.

“Trans fats are a harmful compound that can be removed easily without major cost and without any impact on the quality of the foods,” Dr Branca said. Countries who have not started the process will no doubt have to use regulation or legislation to encourage food makers to make the switch, experts said.

Dr Tom Frieden, a former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who worked with WHO officials on the call to action, said the move was unprecedented. ‘”The world is now setting its sights on today’s leading killers – particularly heart disease, which kills more people than any other cause in almost every country,” said Dr Frieden, president of a New-York-based project called Resolve to Save Lives.

Crisco shortening was the first trans fatty food to be launched into the US market, and that was way back in 1911. Unfortunately it was believed that it was healthier than cooking with butter or lard so became very popular in the 1950’s. Many food makers enjoyed the benefit of prolonged product shelf life by including trans fats into foods such as donuts, cookies and fried foods which improved their overall bottom line. As time progressed though studies started to reveal that trans fats wrecked cholesterol levels in the blood and significantly increased the risk of heart disease. Health advocates say trans fats are the most harmful fat in the food supply.

In 2006, New York City banned restaurants from serving food with trans fats. The same year the FDA ruled that manufacturers were to list trans fat content information on food labels. Luckily many manufacturers cut back on it’s addition in their foods, and as a result, studies showed trans fat levels in the blood of middle-aged US adults fell by nearly 60% by the end of the decade.

In 2015, the US FDA took steps to completely eliminate trans fats, calling for manufacturers to stop selling trans fatty foods by June 18, 2018. Obviously this deadline is fast approaching and unfortunately FDA officials have not reported how much progress has been made or how they will enforce their rule against food makers that do not comply.