As many as 3 lakh people die of heart disease in the country every year, and one of the major factors behind such deaths is consumption of industrially-produced trans-fat.
Trans-fat is a kind of fat that is found in packaged, deep fried and bakery foods. The World Health Organization has recommended limiting trans-fat in any food item to 2 percent of total fat content in the backdrop of increasing premature deaths from heart disease.
But Bangladesh does not have any policy to regulate the level of trans-fat in food items available in the market. The Consumer's Association of Bangladesh, the National Heart Foundation of Bangladesh and PROGGA [knowledge for progress] held a discussion on Thursday with Industries Minister Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun to draw attention to this matter.
A Charter of Consumer Demands' was presented to him on behalf of the consumer rights organisations.
The demands include stopping the production, import and marketing of partially hydrogenated oil (PHO), popularly known as Dalda or Banaspati Ghee which contains a high level of trans-fat. Moreover, labeling packages with the amount of trans-fat in the food they contain should be made mandatory. Food products must be strictly monitored to check for trans-fat content, and a modern laboratory should be set up with the appropriate manpower to measure the amount of fat, as per the charter.
Hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to turn it into a semi-solid form, and this item is used to make bakery products. The hydrogenation process increases the level of trans-fat in the oil. Furthermore, repeated frying of food in the same oil increases the amount of trans-fat in the food.
A regular intake of trans-fat boosts bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) in blood and brings down good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein), resulting in blockage of arteries, thereby stopping blood flow.
A high level of trans fat in the body increases the risk of death, stroke and Type-2 diabetes.
In a research on biscuits from 12 bakeries, trans-fat was measured at 5 to 39 percent, which is far above the WHO's recommended level, as said in a document provided at the programme.
In another study, the Heart Foundation found high levels of trans-fat in partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) from the market.
If this issue is ignored, it will not be possible to attain the sustainable development goal of reducing premature deaths from non-communicable diseases by one-third, as suggested in the paper.
As many as 30 nations have already set the maximum limit of trans-fat in food items, including India, Thailand, Australia, Norway and Iran.
Thailand, Singapore, America and Canada have already banned the production and use of PHO.
The minister said the government will plug the legal loopholes to rein in the excessive use of trans-fat in food products.
"If we have to ban some food items in the public interest, we will do it," he said.
Muhammad Ruhul Quddus, public health specialist and country coordinator of Global Health Advocacy Incubator, said if people do not stop consuming trans-fat, the health risk it poses will eventually put pressure on the health budget, and families will also be financially squeezed.