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Keywords:

  • food industry;
  • health;
  • regulation;
  • trans-fatty acid

Abstract

Aim:  The aim of this paper is to critically assess recent calls for increased regulation to lower the level of trans fats in the Australian diet.

Methods:  Key milestones in the elucidation of the effects on trans fats on health were identified and reviewed. Trends in intakes of trans fats in Australia and factors affecting those trends were described and compared with those in Denmark, which has regulated to lower population intake of trans fats.

Results:  The scientific evidence demonstrating adverse effects of trans fats on human health is consistent and strong. Australian health authorities were quick to identify the potential risk of trans fats and communicate it to health professionals and the food industry. The response from the margarine industry resulted in large falls in the trans fat content of the Australian diet in the mid-1990s. A second wave of trans fat reduction across many foods categories has occurred subsequently. Total intake of trans fats in Australia is now low, half the upper limit recommended by the World Health Organization and lower than the intake in Denmark. Trans fats of industrial origin comprise just one-eighth of 1% of dietary energy. These falls in trans fat intake mirror the large falls that occurred in Denmark prior to regulation.

Conclusions:  The case for increased regulation to lower intake of trans fats in Australia cannot be sustained. The trans fat issue stands as a good example of self-regulation through collaboration between Australian health agencies, the food industry and the government.