ban on trans fat
The World Health Organization is fighting against trans fat in an effort to save thousands of lives. On May 14, WHO announced that it plans to ban trans fat from the global food supply by 2023. The reason behind this ban on trans fat is to reduce the number of those who die from cardiovascular disease.

Why the Ban on Trans Fat is Important

While this global charge has been in effect in other countries such as Denmark and the United States, it has been harder to implement in the developing countries of North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death globally, averaging 500,000 premature (under the age of 70) deaths every year. Over 75 percent of this number takes place in low and middle-income countries.

Cardiovascular disease is linked to an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, smoking and being overweight. While all of these may be linked to cardiovascular disease, an unhealthy diet generates a greater risk than the other three. An unhealthy diet accounts for an estimated 11.3 million deaths annually. One of the greatest contributors to an unhealthy diet is trans fat.

How Trans Fat Disproportionately Affects the Poor

Since many vegetable oils and fats are relatively cheap, there is a greater increase in fat consumption in low-income countries. Along with trans fat and certain oils being cheaper for those in low-income countries, it is also one of the most common ways food is cooked in these regions.

There is a correlation present in these developing nations that with the increase in trans fat consumption, there is an increase in cardiovascular disease. This becomes even more detrimental in that at least half the world does not have access to essential health coverage. There are also about 100 million people falling into extreme poverty because they have to pay for health care.

For example, the probability of dying before age 70 in Iran for males was 47 percent and for females, 39 percent; a majority of this has to do with cardiovascular disease caused by unhealthy diets. In Iran in 2004, 12 percent of the calories consumed were from hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is the main source of trans fat.

Because of this hefty consumption of food cooked in trans fat, Iran, at one point in the past decade, had the second highest cardiovascular death rate in the entire world. Iran then made it a goal to cut down its trans fat consumption to less than one percent. To work toward this goal, it found ways to replace hydrogenated vegetable oil with a different type of vegetable oil.

As Iran has worked with reducing its consumption of trans fat, it is closer to following WHO’s goal and initiative with the ban on trans fat to reduce premature mortality from noncommunicable diseases. One way WHO is implementing its ban on trans fat in other countries is by using the acronym REPLACE. This six-step strategy allows others to make the steps toward a healthier lifestyle.

The following is each step of the REPLACE method that is seen on the World Health Organization’s website:

  1. RE: Review dietary source of industrially-produced trans fats and the landscape for required policy change.
  2. P: Promote the replacement of industrially-produced trans fats with healthier fats and oils.
  3. L: Legislate or enact regulatory actions to eliminate industrially-produced trans fats.
  4. A: Assess and monitor trans fat content in the food supply and changes in trans fat consumption in the population.
  5. C: Create awareness of the negative health impact of trans fats among policymakers, producers, suppliers and the public.
  6. E: Enforce compliance with policies and regulations.

Working Toward a Healthier Future

Noncommunicable diseases are closely linked with poverty. Those in developing countries have a greater risk of being exposed to unhealthy dietary practices with limited access to healthcare.

The only way to go about reducing the number of noncommunicable deaths is to look at the risk factors head-on. With this ban on trans fat, lives will be saved, not just those in higher social positions and economically well off, but those in low-income countries with inadequate health care as well.

– Victoria Fowler
Photo: Flickr

Combating Common Diseases in EstoniaEstonia, a European country that borders the Baltic Sea, was a member of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991. In 2004, Estonia joined the EU and had been run as a parliamentary republic ever since. With a population of a little over 1.3 million, the country has a life expectancy of 73 years for men and 82 years for women.

Over the past few decades, Estonia has built its healthcare system from the ground up. The increase in accessibility and quality of healthcare has helped to combat common diseases in Estonia.

Cardiovascular disease has by far the highest mortality rate in Estonia, causing 54 percent of deaths. Cancer is the second deadliest, claiming 21.5 percent. An unhealthy diet and high systolic blood pressure are the two most fatal risks in Estonia, each containing over twice the risk of the third greatest risk. Most common diseases in Estonia can be avoided with a well-balanced diet and consistent exercise.

There are also common communicable diseases in Estonia that can cause much harm, especially if left untreated. Afflictions like diarrhea and lower respiratory diseases comprise over 62 percent of fatal communicable diseases. HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis also pose a threat to the mortality rate, causing 26 percent of deaths due to communicable diseases. Hepatitis A, Typhoid Fever, Hepatitis E, Malaria, Dengue Fever, and Rabies also pose a risk. While these diseases are not common diseases in Estonia, citizens and visitors should still be wary and take all possible precautions.

Tuberculosis has been a topic of concern for Estonians, especially because of its attachment to HIV. Estonia has one of the highest numbers of patients suffering from both tuberculosis and HIV. Thankfully, the government has committed to attacking tuberculosis, and the country is on track to reduce the incidence of tuberculosis.

Estonia’s healthcare system provides health insurance for 95 percent of the population to combat these diseases. It is ranked a higher quality system than that of Great Britain by the Health Consumer Powerhouse (HCP). The HCP also ranked Estonia first as the most cost-effective healthcare program. With the Estonian government continuing to make consistent improvements in healthcare, deaths caused by common diseases should continue to decrease.

Julia Mccartney

Photo: Flickr

Three Connections between Poverty and Chronic Disease
Chronic or long-term diseases are most common in low- and middle-income countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that poverty and chronic disease are “interconnected in a vicious cycle” in which the poorest are the most at-risk for dying. Here are three chronic diseases that affect the world’s poor in addition to suggestions from experts about how global communities can begin to address them.

High Blood Pressure

According to a recent study from Circulation journal, high blood pressure is more prevalent in low- and middle-class countries than in high-income countries. The study reports that 30% of the global population suffered from high blood pressure, or hypertension, in 2010. Health officials call high blood pressure the leading preventable cause of premature death worldwide, with 1.4 billion people at risk.

Some researchers believe that high blood pressure in low- and middle-income countries might be due to unhealthy urban diets and high-stress environments. Researchers suggest that prevention is the key to addressing high blood pressure, such as encouraging those in urban areas to intake less sodium and fewer calories. Although opinions about high blood pressure vary, these steps might help low- and middle-income countries cut down on the risks associated with high blood pressure.

Cardiovascular Diseases

Another connection between poverty and chronic disease is a group of diseases that are the number one global cause of death. About three-quarters of global deaths come from cardiovascular diseases in low- and middle-income nations. Often the poorest do not have access to health services that will detect problems with their health early on as those in high-income countries do. WHO reports the disease can even put pressure on low- or middle-income economies since they are expensive to treat.

WHO has identified that a few ways to reduce cardiovascular disease are to control tobacco use, tax foods that are high in unhealthy ingredients and provide healthy meals for school children. Other methods exist, including identifying and treating at-risk individuals as well as performing surgeries.

Bronchial Asthma

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reports those in poverty are at higher risk of bronchial asthma due to air pollution, modernization and construction work. Expensive and inaccessible health services and medications make the problem worse. Other factors like increases in poor diets and decreases in exercise add to the rates of asthma in developing nations.

The NCBI reports that many people are uneducated about asthma and misunderstand how to use medications and inhalers. It recommends that health authorities improve health education programs in order to teach patients how to properly use medicines to treat their asthma.

Although these diseases are only a few among many, experts believe poverty and chronic disease are complexly bound together and harm many of the world’s poor. Hopefully, with increases in global education and better health services, developing communities can begin to attack the everyday diseases that make life in poverty even more difficult.

Addie Pazzynski

Photo: Flickr