Bangladesh: Frame laws to limit trans fat in foods, say experts

Pointing out that industrially produced trans fat, often present in tasty treats, is a silent killer, experts have urged the Bangladesh government to formulate laws at the earliest to rid foods of the ‘abdominal fat’ in order to prevent hundreds of premature deaths every year.

They have called on the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) to limit trans fat in foods as soon as possible, to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease patients from worsening their condition during the pandemic. Big companies should not be allowed to use trans fats exceeding 2 percent in food items.

The experts have also urged Bangladeshis to avoid unhealthy snacks, claiming that foods containing excessive trans fat cause various diseases, especially heart conditions. The intake of such unhealthy foods these days could have a devastating impact on people’s health as many have shunned workouts due to the pandemic.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) data, at least 5,776 people die each year in Bangladesh due to trans fat consumption alone, which means 460 people a month. The longer it takes to introduce a policy on trans fat, the number of unintended preventable deaths go higher.

In Bangladesh, around 131,000 people die each year from heart diseases, according to government figures.

WHO has set a global target of eliminating industrially produced trans fatty acids from the food supply chain by 2023. About 30 countries, including India, Thailand, Iran, Austria, Norway, South Africa and Brazil, have already taken steps to determine the maximum limit of trans fats in foods, while another 24 countries are in the process to lower the limit to 2 percent.

But Bangladesh is far away from implementing the replace action package announced by WHO in 2018, despite the target to eliminate trans fats by 2023.

In a recent study by the National Heart Foundation Hospital and Research Institute, researchers analysed 24 samples of leading partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) or dalda brands from the markets of Dhaka and found trans fatty acid (TFA) contents exceeding the 2% threshold recommended by WHO in 92% of them.

Analysis of the samples even showed a staggering high concentration of TFA with a maximum 20.9g per 100g, which is 10 times more than the WHO-set threshold.

The average TFA level of the PHO samples is 11g. In Bangladesh, PHO, dalda or vanaspati ghee is usually used in preparing deep fried snacks and bakery products as well as in preparing food items at eateries.

According to the executive Director of PROGGA, a research and advocacy organisation, ABM Zubair, trans fat is an unwanted toxic element in food and its intake with daily food products causes health hazards and deaths that can be completely prevented by speedy legislation and strict enforcement.

“Unexpected preventable premature death is rising in the country due to procrastination in trans fat policy. So, it should be addressed at the earliest. People should also start avoiding foods with trans fat to stay healthy,” he told UNB.

Zubair urged the government to limit trans fat to 2% of total fat in all oils and foods, and called for speedy formulation of laws to save millions of lives. His organisation is also running a social media campaign, titled Heart Health

“There can be no excuse to delay the path to trans fat free Bangladesh. Eliminating trans fat will save thousands of lives in Bangladesh each year from the deadly clutches of heart diseases,” he added.

Assistant Director of Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) Enamul Hoque said that industrially-produced trans fats are silent toxic killers. “A high level of trans fat in foods increases the bad cholesterol (LDL) level and reduces the good cholesterol (HDL) level in the human body,” he said.

Enamul said that intake of excessive levels of trans fat can cause plaque in blood vessels, disrupting the flow of blood, leading to early heart attack and resulting in premature deaths. Trans fat can often be found in processed foods, fast food, snacks, fried food items, biscuits, cookies and margarine. People usually take trans fat items more during Ramadan.


He said they were working to formulate a policy and raise awareness among people. “As Bangladeshi people are not aware of foods with trans fats, a policy is a must to this end. Companies have to be forced to implement rules of using the highest 2 percent trans fat in foods.”

Asked about the progress of policy formulation, BSFA Chairman Md Abdul Qayyum Sarkar said the preliminary draft of the policy on trans fat has been prepared. “A meeting is to be called soon by the technical committee to discuss the prepared preliminary policy draft with the stakeholders concerned. We hope that it will be finalised in the next six months.”

Source: United News of Bangladesh