World Obesity Day sheds light on Pakistan’s battle against trans-fatty acids

By Our Correspondent
March 04, 2024
This representational image shows an obese person is holding his abdomen. — Unsplash/File

Islamabad: More than 50 per cent of the population in Pakistan is currently overweight, resulting in the incidence of several extremely harmful ailments.” This was shared in a press release issued by the coalition partners of the TRANSFORM Pakistan campaign on the eve of World Obesity Day.


Recent studies have shown a disturbing correlation between the increasing incidence of obesity in Pakistan and the widespread consumption of foods high in trans fats. These harmful iTFAs are commonly found in processed and fast foods, snacks, and cooking oils. Since last year, the TRANSFORM Pakistan campaign has been at the forefront, advocating for the regulation of iTFAs to create a healthier and safer dietary landscape for all Pakistanis.

“Statistics from the World Health Organization reveal that 58.1% of Pakistanis are classified as overweight, and 43.9% fall into the category of obesity,” said Afshar Iqbal, Director of Communications and Advocacy at Pakistan Youth Change Advocates (PYCA). “The estimated annual cost of managing obesity in Pakistan was a staggering PKR 428 billion in 2015.”

The press statement emphasizes that to tackle the growing incidence of obesity in Pakistan, it is crucial to address the root causes triggering this epidemic. “There is a strong connection between rising obesity rates and the prevalence of industrially produced Trans-Fatty Acids (iTFAs) in Pakistani dietary sources,” stated Dr Saba Amjad, the CEO of Heartfile. “These harmful substances have been linked to a range of health issues, including obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and other metabolic disorders,” added Mr. Munawar Hussain, the In-country Coordinator of the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI).

“Among the most important steps to reduce the rising tide of obesity and related diseases in Pakistan is to introduce a government-mandated regulatory framework. Such a framework should ensure that the prevalence of iTFAs in all food items is limited to 2 per cent or less of their total fat content,” emphasized Mr. Mukhtar Ahmed, the Executive Director of the Center for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI).

The Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination (MoNH­R&C), also a patron of the TRANSFORM Pakistan campaign, has been actively engaged with various stakeholders, including the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) to ensure that a government-led mandatory standard is soon put into place. “In 2023, Pakistan was successfully able to regulate iTFA content in several dietary sources including cooking oils, Vanaspati ghee, bakery shortenings and bakery wares,” shared Dr. Khawaja Masuood Ahmed, National Coordinator, Nutrition & National Fortification Alliance at MoNHSR&C. “We are, however, aware that many notable food items such as ultra-processed items, dairy products such as chocolates and ice-creams and street food still remain outside the ambit of this regulation. The MoNHR&C is committed to ensuring that all food items across Pakistan soon come under one unified regulation to limit the prevalence of iTFAs in our dietary sources.”