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July 11, 2019

Pakistan has second highest per capita intake of trans fats

Islamabad

July 11, 2019

Islamabad: Pakistan needs to take strong action to reduce or eliminate the high content of trans fats, saturated fats, sugar, and salt in food items as these are key dietary risk factors contributing to mortality associated with Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). Industrially produced trans fats (TFA) cause an estimated 540,000 deaths every year in the world, and TFA-associated mortality rate could be even higher in Pakistan as the country possesses the second highest per capita intake of TFA around the globe.

This is one of the main findings of a report titled ‘Assessment of Dietary Risk Factors Associated with NCDs in Pakistan and Strategies to Reduce their Burden.’ The report will be disseminated today (Thursday) at an event co-hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Ministry of National Health Services, and Heartfile. The Ministry of National Health Services, with the support of WHO, has planned to assess the contents of diet-based risk factors associated with NCDs in industrially produced foods, given that the elimination of TFA from the food supply is one of the priority targets that will guide the work of WHO in 2019-2023.

The objective of the study is to investigate the dietary sources of industrially-produced trans fats, saturated fats, salt and sugar in Pakistan; to determine the availability of fats and oils, including import of foods high in trans fat; to map key stakeholders working on the subject; and to appraise the existing policy environment for control of trans fats, saturated fats, salt and sugar in our diet, including identification of relevant regulatory bodies and policy framework.

Even though Pakistan is listed among countries with high intake of hydrogenated fats rich in saturated fats, the consumption of saturated fats is yet to be recorded in real manner. Saturated fats in diet can raise the levels of bad cholesterol in blood. It has been estimated that the salt intake by Pakistani population is double that of the recommended (5g/person/day) value. High sodium level can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure, resulting in Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs), while sugar-rich foods give rise to obesity and diabetes. NCDs are a major cause of human mortality in Pakistan (58% deaths per annum).

The study points out that five-year data (2012-13 to 2016-17) on edible oil and Vanaspati ghee trade in Pakistan have shown that fat products potentially rich in trans fat are being imported in small quantities, and that the threat associated with locally manufactured Vanaspati ghee is much gigantic than these imports, in respect to their contribution towards NCDs. Vanaspati ghee, bakery shortening, hard margarines and fat spreads are the basic trans fat contributors.

Terming the regulatory framework as an essential tool to avoid the burden of diet-based risk factors associated with NCDs, the study states that in Pakistan, the legislative framework for food (comprising federal and provincial food authorities) has either established or is on the verge of setting the limits for trans fat in diet.

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