Eliminating trans fats in Europe


The WHO European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015–2020 mandates WHO to work with countries to develop and implement national policies to ban or virtually eliminate trans fats from the food supply.

In this context, WHO/Europe developed a policy brief on eliminating trans fats in Europe, which presents the available policy options and an assessment of the evidence regarding effectiveness in reducing availability of trans fat in the food supply. It also details a number of country experiences from across the WHO European Region.

The WHO Technical Report Series No. 916 "Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic disease" first set a population-level nutrient intake goal for trans-fatty acids of <1% of total energy intake. This goal was then restated in the WHO Scientific Update on trans-fatty acids, published in 2009. The recommendation to minimize trans-fat intake is based predominantly on the evidence that consumption significantly increases the risk of coronary heart disease. 

In addition, evidence shows that intake of trans fat is associated with increased risk of other cardiovascular diseases, central adiposity and diabetes, among other conditions, with no positive nutritional role beyond being a potential source of energy. Replacing trans fat in the diet with alternative sources of fat reduce risk of coronary heart disease, with greatest improvements associated with substitution for unsaturated fats.

6 countries legislate to ban trans fats

6 countries in the WHO European Region now have legislative limits in place that virtually eliminate trans fat from the food supply. Denmark was the first country to introduce such a policy, and other countries have largely followed its model: Norway, Iceland, Hungary, Austria and Switzerland. Sweden has also adopted legislation, but has not yet implemented it. In the policy brief, a legal limit is suggested as an effective policy option and eventually effective at reducing intake across all socio-economic groups in the population.