Europe leads the world in eliminating trans fats

Copenhagen, 18 September 2014

Consumption of trans fats is strongly associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, and has been linked to several types of cancer. A growing number of countries in the WHO European Region have recognized that taking action to eliminate trans fats may bring significant health gains, and new data indicate that such action is highly effective in reducing trans-fat consumption among the population.

Five European countries have bravely decided nearly to ban trans fats through regulation, while others have decided to use self-regulatory mechanisms. Despite this progress, the lack of policies or bans in many parts of the European Region remains a serious concern. Most consumers do not know that some food categories contain important amounts of trans fatty acids. Consumption in some population groups, particularly poorer people, can be very high.

“Removing trans fats from the food supply is one of the most straightforward public health interventions for reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and some cancers, and improving diet. Denmark’s virtual ban on the sale of products containing trans fats in 2003 was a worldwide first. Europe now leads the world in the number of countries that have taken action to virtually eliminate trans fats from our diets. If more countries act, the benefits to health can be substantial across the whole Region,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, to representatives of the Region’s 53 Member States at the 64th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Trans fats are most commonly found in processed foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as: certain types of margarine, several types of packaged/processed foods, some fast-food products, chips and commercial baked goods.

There is significant momentum across the Region to take action on trans fats. Denmark, Austria, Hungary, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland have set similar limits that virtually ban trans fats from food products, but consumption remains high where no policies are in place. For example, a recent study revealed that people could consume as much as 30 g trans fat per day in some eastern countries in the Region.  This is a concern, as consumption of only 5 g per day is associated with a 23% increase in the risk of coronary heart disease.  Even in European Union countries, high levels of trans fats can still be found in some food categories, and there is some evidence of higher consumption in low socioeconomic groups.*

Denmark has seen several benefits from virtually banning trans fats.

  • Intake decreased among all age groups, and is now one tenth of the level when the ban was adopted.
  • Within one year, most products on the Danish market were able to comply with the new limit of 2 g trans fat per 100 g fat.
  • The overall nutritional profile of food products could improve, including increases in use of healthier fats (such as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats), according to the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries.
  • The drop in trans-fat consumption may partly account for the significant decrease in mortality from cardiovascular diseases recently experienced in Denmark.

Comprehensive policy response

Adopted by the Regional Committee yesterday, the WHO European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015–2020 calls for a comprehensive response to the challenge of diet-related noncommunicable diseases, obesity and all other forms of malnutrition still prevalent in the WHO European Region. It clearly presents a package of evidence-informed policy actions that are likely to be effective in promoting healthy diets, especially when implemented collectively. Based on experience from countries, these tools and actions can be adapted for use by countries in ways that suit their particular circumstances.

The WHO Regional Office for Europe’s website offers further information on the European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015–2020 and the 2014 Regional Committee

For further information, contact:

Tina Kiaer
Communications Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe
UN City, Marmorvej 51
2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Tel.: +45 30 36 37 36 (mobile)

Joao Breda
Programme Manager for Nutrition, Obesity and Physical Activity
WHO Regional Office for Europe
UN City, Marmorvej 51
2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Tel.: + 45 30 50 80 22 (mobile)


*Stender S, Astrup A, Dyerberg J. A trans European Union difference in the decline in trans fatty acids in popular foods: a market basket investigation. BMJ Open 2012;2:e000859. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-000859.Mozaffarian D, Katan MB, Ascherio A, et al. Trans fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med 2006;354:601–3