A ban on the use of artificial trans fats in foodstuffs could potentially be brought forward, a UAE minister said on Tuesday.
Sultan Al Mansouri, Minister of Economy, revealed that discussions were underway to see if new regulations could be imposed prior to 2023.
Dherar Al Falasi, a member of the Federal National Council representing Dubai, said trans fats had long been known to increase the risk of heart disease.
He pointed out that the UAE’s health sector was spending huge figures looking after patients who were suffering complications due to poor diet.
He said figures released by the Dubai Health Authority in 2018 showed more than 11,000 residents suffered from heart diseases and related chronic issues. Nearly 7,000 were Emirati.
“Why wait until 2023?” he said. “The number of patients could double by then.
“The annual cost for treating each patient per year is estimated at $120,000 (Dh440,760) by the World Health Organisation.
“Let’s estimate in Dubai it would reach an average of Dh100,000 per patient – we are talking about billions of dirhams spent on treatment. So we don’t want artificial trans fats to be used at all.
“So we don’t want artificial trans fats to be used at all. Saudi Arabia has already banned them completely since January.”
Artificial trans fats, otherwise known as industrial trans fats, occur when vegetable oils are chemically altered to stay solid at room temperature, giving products a much longer shelf life.
They are commonly found in baked goods such as cakes and cookies, as well snacks including crisps and popcorn. Consuming trans fats can increase the chances of developing heart disease.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends limiting total intake to less than 1 per cent of your total energy absorption per day. That translates to less than 2.2 grams per day – or half a teaspoon - on a 2,000-calorie diet.
But in 2018, the health agency issued a global call to eliminate trans fats within five years to “protect health and save lives”.
Many countries have already taken strict action against the use of trans fats in foods.
In 2004, Denmark became the first country in the world to regulate the content of artificial trans fats in certain food products. More than 15 years on, the move has nearly eliminated artificial trans fats from the country’s food supply. It has also resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease.
In 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration ruled that artificial trans fats were no longer "generally recognised as safe" for use in food. Today, no food prepared in the US is allowed to include trans fats, unless approved by the FDA.
In the UAE, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure or heart disease are found in people at an average of 10 to 20 years younger than in western countries. A lack of exercise and poor diet are major factors contributing to this trend.
"Trans fats increase the risk of heart attacks, stroke and type 2 diabetes by lowering what is known as good cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein, and increasing bad cholesterol, known as low-density lipoprotein," Dr Anwar Sallam, group chief medical officer at Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, told The National earlier this year.
“LDL allows cholesterol to build up in the walls of the arteries, making them narrow and restricting blood flow.”
Mr Al Falasi said he would be discussing the issue of bringing forward a ban with health officials over the coming weeks “because they are bearing the cost of treating patients”.
"I am happy that the minister showed willingness to accelerate the ban," he told The National.
“I believe we could further discuss how it could be done after the session.
“The billions used on treatment could be well spent on research and developing hospitals instead.”