The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged all nations to eliminate artificial trans fats from food products in the next five years.

The WHO, an agency of the United Nations that also seeks to exterminate infectious diseases, has turned its attention to eradicating trans fats linked to chronic illness.

Artificial trans fats are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it solid, for example in the creation of margarine or shortenings.

WHO Department of Nutrition for Health and Development Dr Francesco Branca said: “Trans fats are a harmful compound that can be removed easily without major cost and without any impact on the quality of the foods.” He added that even developing nations can enact measures to eliminate trans fats in foods.

Health experts have said that these unhealthy hydrogenated fats can be replaced with canola oil or other natural products. Trans fats do sometimes occur naturally in meat and dairy products, prompting the WHO to also recommend that no more than 1% of an individual’s calorie intake should come from these sources.

WHO officials believe that the majority of trans fats can be eliminated in many countries in the next five years. Denmark placed a ban on trans fats in food products 15 years ago. Since then, many other high-income countries, such as the US, have been reducing the levels of the additive, which has been linked to heart disease.

Canadian Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said last year that a ban on trans fats will be adopted in the country as of 12 September 2018. WHO officials believe that government restrictions such as this one will be instrumental in encouraging food manufacturers to change their current practices.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is expected to declare a worldwide action against trans fats at a news conference in Geneva.

US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention former director Dr Tom Frieden called the move unprecedented, saying: “The world is now setting its sights on today’s leading killers, particularly heart disease, which kills more people than any other cause in almost every country.”

Trans fats rose in popularity in the US during the last century due to their ability to prolong shelf life and enhance flavour. In 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set a deadline to eliminate the sale of foods high in trans fats by 18 June 2018 after health experts warned that the additive contributes to more than half a million deaths each year worldwide.

Washington, DC-based Centre for Science in the Public Interest policy director Laura MacCleery said of the decision: “The removal of trans fats from the food supply as an additive counts as one of the major public health victories of the last decade.”