India has taken an important step to improve public health: On January 1, new limits on trans fat in edible oils took effect.
Consumption of trans fat increases the risk of coronary heart disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. Trans fat is found in particularly high quantities in partially hydrogenated oils that may be used in baked, fried and packaged foods even though there are healthier alternatives.
India has the highest number of trans fat-related deaths in the world, with an estimated 71,317 fatalities in 2019. Government leaders have pledged to eliminate artificial trans fat from all foods by 2022, a year ahead of a global deadline suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO). Regulations unveiled on December 29, 2020, limit trans fat in edible oils to no more than 3 percent “by weight” beginning this month, and to no more than 2 percent by January 2022.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is working on separate regulations that would expand trans fat limits to all foods.
The Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) has been providing technical and strategic support to civil society and nutrition groups seeking to address trans fat in food. Vandana Shah, who oversees GHAI’s cardiovascular health work in South Asia, applauded FSSAI’s work.
“India joins a growing number of countries, including Brazil and Turkey, that are taking steps to follow the WHO’s call to eliminate industrially produced trans fat from their food supply by 2023,” Shah said, referring to two countries that approved strict trans fat limits within the past 13 months with support from GHAI. “FSSAI’s leadership and initiative to make India TFA-free could become a model for other countries in the region to better protect their citizens from this toxic ingredient.”
Health and nutrition advocates have been powerful supporters of trans fat elimination efforts in India. Organizations like Consumer Voice helped raise awareness about trans fat health harms and build consensus around trans fat elimination measures endorsed by WHO. They organized and participated in policy discussions, gathered and shared expert advice and generated plenty of media coverage.
Dr. Naresh Trehan and Amit Khurana are among a group of prominent health and nutrition experts that have spoken out about trans fat. Trehan is a renowned cardiovascular and cardiothoracic (as well as the Indian president’s personal) surgeon; Khurana is a prominent food activist who directs the Centre for Science and Environment’s work on food safety and toxins.
A series of journalism workshops helped to generate hundreds of stories about trans fat health harms and solutions, and educate food and health commissioners from Delhi to Kerala and Punjab about their role in enforcing trans fat restrictions. An ongoing digital media campaign is helping to solidify and demonstrate broad support for trans fat elimination.
Trans fat elimination has become part of India’s political discourse – so much so that in March 2020, during a contentious budget session of the Parliament and just before India entered a painful national lockdown to address COVID-19, lawmakers raised several questions about trans fat in both the lower and upper chamber.
GHAI is proud to support India’s public health advocates as they continue to fight for a #TransFatFreeIndia.