Estimated health benefits, costs, and cost-effectiveness of eliminating industrial trans-fatty acids in Australia: A modelling study

PLoS Med. 2020 Nov 2;17(11):e1003407. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003407. eCollection 2020 Nov.


Background: trans-fatty acids (TFAs) are a well-known risk factor of ischemic heart disease (IHD). In Australia, the highest TFA intake is concentrated to the most socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. Elimination of industrial TFA (iTFA) from the Australian food supply could result in reduced IHD mortality and morbidity while improving health equity. However, such legislation could lead to additional costs for both government and food industry. Thus, we assessed the potential cost-effectiveness, health gains, and effects on health equality of an iTFA ban from the Australian food supply.

Methods and findings: Markov cohort models were used to estimate the impact on IHD burden and health equity, as well as the cost-effectiveness of a national ban of iTFA in Australia. Intake of TFA was assessed using the 2011-2012 Australian National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey. The IHD burden attributable to TFA was calculated by comparing the current level of TFA intake to a counterfactual setting where consumption was lowered to a theoretical minimum distribution with a mean of 0.5% energy per day (corresponding to TFA intake only from nonindustrial sources, e.g., dairy foods). Policy costs, avoided IHD events and deaths, health-adjusted life years (HALYs) gained, and changes in IHD-related healthcare costs saved were estimated over 10 years and lifetime of the adult Australian population. Cost-effectiveness was assessed by calculation of incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs) using net policy cost and HALYs gained. Health benefits and healthcare cost changes were also assessed in subgroups based on socioeconomic status, defined by Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) quintile, and remoteness. Compared to a base case of no ban and current TFA intakes, elimination of iTFA was estimated to prevent 2,294 (95% uncertainty interval [UI]: 1,765; 2,851) IHD deaths and 9,931 (95% UI: 8,429; 11,532) IHD events over the first 10 years. The greatest health benefits were accrued to the most socioeconomically disadvantaged quintiles and among Australians living outside of major cities. The intervention was estimated to be cost saving (net cost <0 AUD) or cost-effective (i.e., ICER < AUD 169,361/HALY) regardless of the time horizon, with ICERs of 1,073 (95% UI: dominant; 3,503) and 1,956 (95% UI: 1,010; 2,750) AUD/HALY over 10 years and lifetime, respectively. Findings were robust across several sensitivity analyses. Key limitations of the study include the lack of recent data of TFA intake and the small sample sizes used to estimate intakes in subgroups. As with all simulation models, our study does not prove that a ban of iTFA will prevent IHD, rather, it provides the best quantitative estimates and corresponding uncertainty of a potential effect in the absence of stronger direct evidence.

Conclusions: Our model estimates that a ban of iTFAs could avert substantial numbers of IHD events and deaths in Australia and would likely be a highly cost-effective strategy to reduce social-economic and urban-rural inequalities in health. These findings suggest that elimination of iTFA can cost-effectively improve health and health equality even in countries with low iTFA intake.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Cost Savings
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Female
  • Food Industry / economics*
  • Health Care Costs / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Equity / economics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Risk Factors
  • Trans Fatty Acids / adverse effects


  • Trans Fatty Acids

Grants and funding

MM and JHYW, are researchers within a National Health and Medical Research Council Centre for Research Excellence in reducing salt intake using food policy interventions (APP1117300). JHYW is supported by a UNSW Scientia Fellowship. MZ is supported by National Health and Medical Research Council Early Career Research Fellowship (GNT1124283). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.