The message that a 2010-study findings on trans fat intake leave for the nation is quite chilling. Of the findings, the most alarming is the death of 8,000 people on account of consumption of excessive industrially produced trans fatty acids (iTFA) or in popular parlance trans fat. Whether the consumption of this artificial trans fat has increased or not over the nine years since the study is not known. To determine this, another such study was necessary. The report carried in this newspaper on Monday last has not mentioned any such exercise by any organisation. But common knowledge ought to be a guide to the view that it has increased by this time. Since trans fat is mostly used in restaurants and bakeries, the ever rising number of such eateries in the capital and other cities should indicate a far greater use of the frying agent. However, the item's market size of 0.24 million tonnes a year speaks for itself. It comprises 7.0 per cent of the total consumption of South-east Asia.
Popularly known as dalda or banaspati, the vegetable oil is partially hydrogenated to transform the liquid into semi-solid fats. The partially hydrogenated oil itself is responsible for raising bad cholesterol in blood but when cooked oil is reused the level increases many times more. In fact, any oil that is reused for cooking again and again turns into poison. Cheap hotels, restaurants and bakeries are used to frying or cooking food items with reused oil for a long time. In fact, they only add fresh oil to the previously used for days and months. At a time when 28 countries including India have already taken steps to limit trans fat in foods and 24 other countries are on course of bringing down the limit to just 2.0 per cent, Bangladesh seems indifferent to joining the bandwagon. Why?
However, Bangladesh needs to implement the action package as announced by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2018 for the sake of eliminating trans fat by 2023. This is a prerequisite for compliance with certain conditions of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The death toll of 8,000 on account of trans fat may have risen with the popularity of fast foods among the young generations. But if the production, import and use of partially hydrogenated oil (PHO) can be drastically limited, situation can improve spectacularly.
The fact that Bangladesh does not have many producers of PHO goes in its favour. An official order can do the trick. However, either its replacement has to be found or the level of trans fat brought to an acceptable limit. This, however, does not solve the problem altogether. When oil is reused day after day or month after month by restaurants or eateries to save cost, the problem cannot be overcome so easily. The practice has to be brought under strict supervision and an awareness campaign launched to drive home the information on its adverse health impact. Reduction of duties on import of oil may be an alternative. Lower price will encourage them to use fresh oil.
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