It’s official: trans fat bans are great for public health, and New York City is a prime example. When it comes to a tweak in one’s diet versus the costly lifelong effects of obesity-related health conditions, the writing’s not just on the wall, it’s in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the removal of artificial trans fats from restaurants, bakeries, schools and food carts that took effect in 2007 resulted in a 6% drop in heart attacks and strokes.
Trans fats are processed fats that show up on ingredient lists as “partially hydrogenated oil.” The process involves using hydrogen to convert a large percentage of the healthy fat — like you get in avocados, eggs and fish — to trans fatty acids which stay solid at room temperature. This ability to stay solid makes for easier manipulation of ingredients into highly processed products like packaged snack cakes, cookies and boxed crackers. It also prolong the shelf life of these products; however, partially hydrogenated fat remains as sturdy as it’s engineered to be, and is far more difficult for the body to break down. As a result, the fat builds up as plaque along the arteries and can result in high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Opposers of the ban, which imposes a fine between $200 and $2000 on establishments for non-compliance, accused Bloomberg of creating a “nanny state.” Demanding autonomy over their own food purchases, they feared that the lack of trans fats would affect the flavor and texture of favorite foods like fried chicken and French fries. Not long after NYC passed the legislation, switching to trans fat-free oils became a much-publicized trend among many national restaurant chains.
We think Colonel Sanders would be proud,” KFC Corp. President Gregg Dedrick said in a statement.
Some NYC establishments initially struggled to pinpoint the sources of trans fat on their menus during the process of phasing out and re-sourcing products and ingredients. Nevertheless, New York counties that implemented the ban have seen little complaint and continued improvement in overall cardiovascular health. With impending federal legislation mandating that the entire country, from the restaurant sector to manufacturing, stop using trans fats by 2018, it looks like Mayor Bloomberg was right to investigate the health effects of the city’s deep-fryers.
It’s not just trans fat bans that are becoming mainstream. Sugar reduction or “soda tax” movements are breaking ground in several states to reduce the number of cases of diabetes caused by excess sugar intake. With public health at stake, there’s never been a better time to jump on a healthier collective bandwagon.