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New York trans fat ban led to 'significant' consumption decrease

July 16, 2012|By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times
  • Taco Bell was part of a study on trans fats in fast food.
Taco Bell was part of a study on trans fats in fast food. (Associated Press )

So, the government tells you that you shouldn’t eat trans fats. What do you do? Seek out the nutrient content of everything you eat to make sure no trans fats pass your lips? Not likely, if you’re like most people.

Maybe not so different from the dreary statistics about how many of us pile up enough servings of vegetables and fruit every day.

So New York City had another idea. Get rid of the trans fats in its restaurants and then people won’t have to decide – at least for those meals.

NYC’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has developed a reputation as an activist mayor on health issues – a smoking ban, trans fat ban. And most recently, he proposed that many places be restricted to selling sodas no more than 16 ounces big.

Because of the time it took to put  the trans fat regulations into effect, the New York public health department had the chance to do some interesting research:  It interviewed fast food chain patrons and looked at 6,969 lunchtime receipts outside restaurants in 2007, before the ban took effect, and 7,885 receipts in 2009.

The ban, it found and reported Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, made a difference: Diners consumed 2.4 fewer grams of trans fats per lunch – “a substantial and statistically significant decrease” -- than before the ban – with just a slight increase, 0.55 grams, in consumption of saturated fats.

It doesn’t mean trans fats, which are linked to heart disease -- are gone from our diet – or our food supply. But they’re down.

The food industry had begun reformulating products ahead of a new federal labeling law that took effect in 2006. Since that labeling was required, the average daily consumption of trans fats has gone from 4.6 grams to 1.3 grams, said Kelley Scanlon, a registered dietitian with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Things are clearly much better.”

“The science is very convincing with regard to consumption of trans fats, so the industry had been working on this,” said Joy Dubost, director of nutrition and healthy living at the National Restaurant Assn. “The industry was aware this would need to be addressed.”

The study also suggests that the public should be skeptical when the food industry resists change,  Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, pointed out.

 “The industry, when the policy was proposed, cried wolf on a number of fronts,” Brownell said in an interview Friday. “One is that it would cost them a lot of money. That didn’t happen. They said it would narrow the range of consumer products; that didn happen.  They said would affect the taste and that didn’t happen. They said there would be no benefit, and that didn’t happen.”

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