Islamabad-Trans-Fatty Acids have become a public health challenge and one of the leading causes of mortality in the country, requiring concerted efforts to reduce their consumption, health experts said on Saturday.

Heartfile, WHO Pakistan and the Nutrition Wing of the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination co-hosted an event to present findings from research on TFAs in Pakistan.

The research highlights dangers of TFAs consumption and outlines necessary steps and regulations for limiting their use. The event was attended by key government and non-government stakeholders.

Commencing the proceedings, National Nutrition Coordinator for MoNHSRC Dr Khawaja Masoud Ahmed said that Pakistan was the 2nd highest TFA-consuming country in the WHO-EMRO region and was one of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity related to cardiovascular disease (CVD).

He said that the situation merited a concerted multi-stakeholder response that addressed both demand and supply factors to reduce TFA consumption in the country.

Dr Omar Mukhtar Tarar presented the findings from the study he conducted for MoNHSRC with WHO’s support.

He said that some of main dietary sources of TFAs in Pakistan’s context included partially-hydrogenated oils like ‘vanaspati’ ghee, margarines, and bakery shortenings, among others, which led to TFAs being found in a variety of food products including biscuits, chocolates, ‘parathas’, pastries, breakfast foods, French fries, and breakfast cereals.

He said that the bulk of TFAs in Pakistan (over 98%) were produced locally and thus addressing the supply required regulations for local production.

Speaking on the occasion, Ammar Rashid of Heartfile presented findings from the Heartfile’s situational analysis of the regulatory and policy environment regarding TFAs elimination in Pakistan, which included a review of best practices from other countries.

He said that other countries’ experiences with TFAs elimination showed that establishing mandatory limits on TFAs in foods backed by credible penalties was the most effective route to TFA elimination.

He said, in addition, mandatory nutrition labelling, product reformulation and TFA replacement, multi-sector approaches involving civil society, industry and academia, research on consumption, and strong stewardship by government institutions tended to be key ingredients of successful efforts.

Addressing the gathering, Federal Minister and Advisor to the Prime Minister on Social Protection Dr. Sania Nishtar said that it was important that policymakers take a clear view of public health challenge posed by TFAs and undertake a coordinated countrywide approach to ensure that no loopholes remain in the regulatory system.

She said that the most important factor in controlling TFAs intake and NCDs at large was changing population consumption and behavioural patterns, for which concerted and sustained thought and interventions were necessary. She said the federal government would put its support behind the fight for TFA elimination and stressed on the need to develop a common regulatory approach.

Dr Palitha, country head of WHO Pakistan, also spoke on the occasion and said that eliminating TFA was among WHO-EMRO’s key priorities for the region and WHO Pakistan was available to provide technical support for authorities for the achievement of this objective by 2023. He said that the fight against NCD risk factors was something that required multi-sector efforts and sustained engagement and joint action of all relevant stakeholders, including government, civil society and the private sector.