Public health at risk
Golam Mostafa Jibon: Trans-fat has now become a major factor for immature deaths across the world including Bangladesh. Although, just three years are remaining to achieve the goal of WHO over eliminating trans-fats from the human food supply globally by 2023, Bangladesh has remained far away to formulate any rules and regulations over the issue.
Bangladesh Standards Testing Institute (BSTI) issued a warning notice dated on December 15 in 2019 about trans-fats in foods, where the regulatory authority has requested to the food producers to limit the use of hydrogenated oils and refrain from reusing cooking oils, while preparing food items considering the health risks due to Trans-fats.
The institute also declared that they are also strengthening their capacity and developing parameters for trans-fats in relevant food items. So far, this has been the one of the very few initiatives taken by Bangladesh to regulate foods containing trans-fats.
Trans Fatty Acids (TFA) is a silent toxic killer. Trans-fats have been dubbed as one of the major cause of cardiovascular diseases. Foods containing high levels of TFA increase the Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) which is also known as ‘bad cholesterol’ and reduce the High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) or ‘good cholesterol’ in the human body, said health experts.
LDL creates blockage in blood vessels, thus increasing the risk of heart diseases and ultimately leading to heart attacks. Intake of excessive levels of trans-fats can cause not only heart blocks but also lead to brain strokes, type 2 diabetes and it can also cause early heart attacks resulting in premature deaths. The recent rise of heart attacks among young people is accountable to excessive intake of trans-fats via foods.
According to the WHO 277,000 people die each year in Bangladesh due to coronary heart diseases and another research done in 2010 has estimated that at least 8000 people die yearly in Bangladesh due to intake of high levels of trans-fats. Perhaps what is more alarming is that the country lacks adequate expertise and equipment facilities to assess the values of trans-fats, said health experts and researchers.
The National Heart Foundation of Bangladesh (NHFB), Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) and PROGGA (Knowledge for Progress) have jointly started awareness building programs in association with Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) and officially launched a campaign on December 15 last. As a part of their campaign on eliminating trans-fats in Bangladesh, they conduct research to identify the actual level of trans-fat in various foods in the country.
Heading the trans-fat project for NHFB, Dr. Sohel Reza said that the study on levels of trans-fats in foods has already been completed with the support of CTFK, which is to be published soon.
As per the test results, they have found more than 10 percent of TFAs in the samples.
“We have collected some samples of samucha, singara and puri in a scientific methodological manner from the local market and since the BSTI has no expertise to test trans-fat level, have sent those to India to test the trans-fat elements of those foods,” he added.
Few years earlier, a group of researchers in Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR) conducted a preliminary survey on some 12 types of biscuits collected from the local bakeries in Dhaka, and found presence of trans-fats ranging from 5.0 percent to 39 percent.
Experts fear that, similar levels of trans-fats are also present in other food items which are suspected to contain TFA.
Cakes, biscuits, breads, buns, donuts, pastries, cream rolls, bakharkhani and almost all traditional bakery foods contain trans-fats. On the other hand, many restaurants and hotels also use the same cooking oil several times at high temperatures for preparing fried and deep fried foods which leads to high levels of trans-fats in those foods.
Besides these, packaged processed foods found in markets also have trans-fats in them. Food producing companies use PHOs to preserve their food items for a longer period and give them a crispy taste, color and flavor.
The prime source of trans-fats is Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHO). PHOis prepared through the process of partial hydrogenation by adding hydrogen to soyabean oil, palm oil or any vegetable oil in high temperatures.The use of various PHOs such as Dalda, Bonospoti Ghee, vegetable shortening for preparing bakery food items as well as restuarant foods and packaged foods in order to increase the taste, flavor and stability of the foods is the main reason for trans-fats getting added in to the foodsupply. It is estimated that PHOs can contain 25-45 percent of trans-fat elements.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in a daily diet of 2,000 calories food consumption, the intake of trans-fats should be below 1.0 percent or less than 2.2 grams. With a target of bringing down the global trans-fat intake below 2.0 percent by 2023, the WHO recommended following the action package REPLACE (Review, Promote, Legislate, Assess, Create and Enforce), which will also contribute in reaching the SDG goal of reducing the prevalence of non-communicable diseases by one-third by 2030.
About 24 countries, including India, Thailand, Singapore, Canada, USA and Denmark have already initiated moves to control the use of TFA in foods.Denmark was the first to frame a law in 2003, mandatinga mandatory maximum level of trans-fat at 2.0 percent of the total fat in foods. Thailand, Singapore, the US and Canada have restricted production and use of all sorts of PHOs. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India declared in 2018, to reduce the maximum level of TFA to 2.0 per cent by 2022 as well as to reject the industry-produced TFA.
The Executive Director of PROGGA A B M Zubair told Daily Industry that, their campaign to eliminate trans-fat will build awareness on TFA consumption as well as advocate the government to be more conscious and develop policies to regulate trans-fats in foods.
He also added that, GHAI is supporting the move to reduce the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases in Bangladesh as well as to meet the WHO target.
Md. Ruhul Quddus, Country Coordinator of GHAI said, the government is yet to set any standard on TFA level in foods.
“The standard level of TFA in our foods could be set by the BSTI or the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA). CTFK is currently working on it,” he added.
Sajjadul Bari, Director (CM) of BSTI said, “We have nothing to do on this regard due to lack of relevant policy. If the government formulates any policy and fix the proportion of TFs in food items, we will be able to apply the law before and after the certification.”
Mahbub Kabir, Member of BFSA said, “We are working to set up the level of Trans-fat use in food items. We have also called upon a meeting on this regard on January 23.”