fatty acids (TFA) in food originate from industrial hydrogenation of oils and from ruminant sources. Compared to unhydrogenated oils, fats containing industrial TFA (I-TFA) are solid at room temperature, have some technical advantages in food processing, and prolong the shelf life of food. However I-TFA can constitute up to 60% of the fats in certain foods, whereas ruminant fat contains at most 6% TFA.1
A meta-analysis of four large prospective studies found that an intake of TFA corresponding to 2% of the total energy intake (E%) (approximately 5 g/day) was associated with a 23% increase in the risk of coronary heart disease.2
Several public health organisations have recommended that I-TFA intake should be lowered as much as possible.3–5
In 1976, the average intake of TFA in Western Europe was 6 g/day. In 1996, this intake had dropped to 2.6 g/day (range 1.2–6.7 g/day), corresponding to 0.5–2.1 E%.6
Approximately half of this intake was from ruminant TFA and only about 1.3 g was from I-TFA, which constitutes a 78% decrease since 1976.6
Despite a mean population intake of approximately 1 g of I-TFA per day in Denmark in 2001, it was still possible to consume 20–30 g of I-TFA in a single high-trans
menu by eating popular food products such as wafers, microwave popcorn, nuggets and French fries.5
Among the 5 million Danes,10 000–50 000 people consumed food from this type of menu several times each week, and got a daily intake of more than 5 g I-TFA.5
Generalising to the population in the EU, this corresponds to 1–5 million people.
In 2003, Canada introduced the mandatory labelling of the I-TFA content in pre-packaged food. In the same year, Denmark introduced a legislative limit of 2% I-TFA in fat used for foods. The EC initially opposed this legislation but in March 2007 dropped its infringement proceedings against Denmark because of increased scientific evidence on the dangers of trans
The USA introduced mandatory labelling of prepackaged food in 2006, followed by legislative limits on I-TFA in the food served in restaurants in New York City in 2008 and in 2010–2011 in the state of California. In 2009, Austria and Switzerland and in 2011 Iceland introduced a legislative ban similar to the Danish’ to be followed also by Sweden. It means that in 2012 only a minority, that is, approximately 14 million people of the 500 million people in EU are protected by legislation against foods with high amounts of I-TFA.
In 2005, we assessed by a market basket investigation the availability of a high-trans
menu (large servings of French fries and nuggets, 100 g of microwave popcorn and 100 g of biscuits/wafers/cakes) in 15 EU countries, and found that, in spite of a low mean intake, high concentrations of I-TFA were still present in many popular foods. Thus, subgroups of the populations could have an intake that is considerably higher than the recommended upper limit for intake of I-TFA.8
I-TFA in foods from international fast food providers was an important contributor to the high intake in these subpopulations.9
Still in 2009, EU countries (with the exception of Austria and Denmark) rely on food producers to voluntarily reduce the amounts of I-TFA in foods. The present study assesses the efficiency of that strategy in three Eastern European countries, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, and in three Western European countries, Germany, France and the UK.