Page last updated at 06:56 GMT, Friday, 16 April 2010 07:56 UK

Medics call for ban on trans-fats in UK food

By Emma Wilkinson
Health reporter, BBC News

Fish and chips
Trans-fats can be found in some fried foods

Calls to ban trans-fats from all foods in the UK have been backed by US public health experts.

Trans-fats - solid fats found in margarines, cakes and fast food - are banned in some countries.

An editorial in the British Medical Journal said 7,000 deaths a year could be prevented by a 1% reduction in consumption.

But the Food Standards Agency said the UK's low average consumption made a complete ban unnecessary.

In January this year, the UK Faculty of Public Health called for the consumption of trans-fats (also know as trans fatty acids) to be virtually eliminated.

We still need to do more to make sure that the industrially produced trans-fats don't creep back into our nation's diets
Victoria Taylor, British Heart Foundation

It says that although trans-fats make up 1% of the average UK adult food energy intake - below the 2% advised as a dangerous level - there are sections of the population where intake is far higher and these groups are being put at risk.

In the BMJ article, doctors from Harvard Medical School backed this view and said bans in Denmark and New York City had effectively eliminated trans-fats, without reducing food availability, taste, or affordability.

Heart health

Many studies have shown harmful effects of trans-fats on heart health.

They are used to extend shelf-life but have no nutritional value and, like saturated fats, they raise blood cholesterol levels which increase the risk of coronary heart disease.

The BMJ article also points out there is no evidence that such legislation leads to harm from increased use of saturated fats.

The doctors wrote that based on current disease rates, a strategy to reduce consumption of trans-fats by even 1% of total energy intake would be expected to prevent 11,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths annually in England alone.

TRANS-FATS
They are partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, turning oily foods into semi-solid foods
Used to extend shelf life of products
Can raise levels of "bad" cholesterol
Even a small reduction in consumption can cut heart disease
They have no nutritional benefit

Commenting on the article, Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said: "There are great differences in the amount of trans-fats consumed by different people and we are particularly concerned about young people and those with little disposable income who eat a lot of this type of food.

"This is a major health inequalities issue."

In 2007, the Food Standards Agency carried out a review of trans-fats and concluded UK consumption was lower than countries such as the US and that voluntary action from food manufacturers had been highly successful.

They said current UK average consumption "was not a concern".

Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said UK voluntary measures by the food industry had achieved significant reductions in the amount of trans-fats in food.

"This is good progress but we still need to do more to make sure that the industrially produced trans-fats don't creep back into our nation's diets."

Barbara Gallani, director of food safety and science at the Food and Drink Federation, said: "We agree that it is important to maintain a healthily balanced diet in which trans-fats are consumed within the safe levels recommended by the FSA and that is why artificial trans-fats have been virtually eliminated from processed foods in the UK."



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SEE ALSO
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